The Upshot: Folky twang and sweet pop jangles from everybody’s favorite literate (and literary) indie rocker.
BY FRED MILLS
Nine albums and three decades in, Oklahoma/Texas indie rocker Thomas Anderson takes comfort in consistency, which, for fans, translates into the kind of warm, familiar sonic handshake expected of an old friend. This time around he’s tilting primarily in the direction of his singer/songwriter folkie side than the more overt rockisms of 2016’s Heaven, with his trademark literary approach to songcraft at the fore. (Go HERE to read my 2016 interview with Anderson in which he discusses his career, stretching all the way back to 1989’s critically hailed Alright, It was Frank . . . and He’s Risen From the Dead and Gone Off With His Truck.)
In fact, a couple of tunes take “literary” literally, notably the remarkably chipper “Henry Miller” in which Anderson traces the notorious novelist’s trajectory (“A threadbare genius in the streets of Paris/ Brooklyn to Big Sur a nomad existence/ He kept his counsel he wrote for himself/ He followed his star heeding nobody else”) and, by extension, celebrates solitary, misunderstood artists everywhere. Later, the narrative of the gently jangling “The Thorn Tree” involves the actions of Joseph of Arimathea following Jesus’ death, and how those actions have echoed down through time—hardly the canonical stuff of girls, cars, and beer.
Though frequently lyrically contemplative, often to the point of downcast, Anderson’s songs still bear the mark of an unapologetic lover of pop. From the upbeat guitar twang and gorgeous organ of “Girls in the Twilight,” to “Rommel’s Polka” which is, you guessed it, a strummy polka, to the straightforward folk-rock of “Encyclopedia,” his intuitive sense of how to craft a memorable melody is profound. There’s also an intriguing outlier on the album, “Rock All Night,” a raucous, delightfully dumb garage rocker based on a ragged-but-right blues progression and featuring an offhand-to-the-point-of-distorted vocal from our man.
Anderson would appear to be on an artistic upswing these days. Heaven featured his first collection of all-new material in a number of years, so with My Songs Are the House I Live In a relatively swift followup, I’m betting his well isn’t anywhere close to dry yet. Keep ‘em coming, sir.
DOWNLOAD: “Rock All Night,” “Girls in the Twilight,” “The Thorn Tree”