BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Thomas Anderson has always been one of America’s most literate songwriters. Able to reference various fictional, musical and historical instances without being obnoxious about it, the Oklahoma/Austin musician has proven over and over again that rock & roll can be smart without losing its edge. But his lyrics can be so intelligent and witty it makes one wonder if he’d ever turn his attention to writing an actual book. Beyond That Point, Anderson’s tenth album, takes a few steps toward that dream: half the songs are spoken word pieces set to moody electronic music. In print here the idea may sound cheesy, but Anderson’s prose is so well-crafted and plainspoken – no self-conscious arty wordplay – that pieces like the wry “Beneath the Summer Stars” and the deep and wistful “Dear Angel” hit smartly home. Especially impressive is the five-part “Martian Lore,” a treatise on humanity’s theories about the surface of Mars, from the nineteenth century to now, that’s a historical narrative so fascinating it begs for expansion into book form.
The other half of the record features songs in Anderson’s usual eclectic style. “Corporate Ladder” lampoons business culture with snarling distorto-rock, while “Brenda’s Disco Fur” wraps its urban bad dream in postpunking folk rock. The countrified “God’s Flying Fortress” and balladic “New Dark Ages” would in a fair world be nominated for Americana Music Festival awards, while “Then She Comes Back” ventures into mystical territory that’s almost spiritual. Between this strong set of tunes and the excellent spoken-word pieces, Beyond That Point maintains an artistic balance that requires repeated spins, so one can ponder its mysteries, laugh at its jokes and grok its very soul.
DOWNLOAD: “Martian Lore 1-5,” “The New Dark Ages,” “Dear Angel”