You can always count on Northampton’s Thane Thomsen to put the brakes on your thought process, no matter how scatterbrained or over-committed you might be in your daily reality. The material on the singer/songwriter’s latest project, Goldwater The Second, carries over the same relaxed, reflective aesthetic that flowed through his work with The Figments and on Goldwater’s freshman effort, and this latest retains core creative members bassist Henning Ohlenbusch (School for the Dead and The Fawns), drummer Brian Marchese (Aloha Steamtrain, The Figments), keyboardist Scott Hall (Drunk Stuntmen) and guitarist Matt Cullen (Ware River Club, The Humming Field).
What puts this record a step above the previous one is the addition of more exotic instruments to the production/arrangement and a tweak in Thomsen’s songwriting that carves out a place for those elements to shine. Cello and vocal harmonies by Melissa Nelson and pedal steel guitar parts added by Bruce Tull (Scud Mountain Boys) bring a fluidity to the songs that hasn’t existed so much before in the Figments/Goldwater tableaux of sonic pastiches, and Matt Cullen’s equally liquid, delay-saturated guitar on “Tolls” brings the song to a place that is very new for Thomsen. Attention to accompanying details is almost overdone, but the effect is to settle into a comfortable, Nigel Godrich-inspired zone of mostly perfectly placed embellishments.
It’s encouraging that Thomsen’s material has begun to meander into all manner of genres and/or styles. Some of the songs on Goldwater The Second feel like Neil Young songs or Exile On Main Street-era Stones tunes, while others (especially those featuring the cello) branch into worlds typically inhabited by Neko Case or even Leonard Cohen. The album represents a meaningful stylistic departure, though Thomsen’s voice and quiet, contemplative vocal style are hard to mistake.
Lyrical content is, as before, brilliantly laced with MÖbius strip mantras and crushingly tender metaphors of everyday life delivered with midwife-like care, from alarms going off in the morning to glances caught out of the corner of an eye. These are the astute observations of someone who sees for leagues, over hills and into forests, into frozen ponds and abandoned barns—lonely places where he coaxes words to evoke scenes of hope, fear and longing: “We tiptoe so as not to wake/ Sometimes we shout like nothing is at stake/ We think that we can fake it/ We get shrouded in our doubt.” Other passages vacillate between sympathy and streaks of cynical, subtly brutal rhetoric: “Grammar’s just for tools/ and we’ve forsaken those/ and clotheslines are only for the birds/ what you want to see/ might not be your window/ words have all flown away.”
Thomsen further solidifies his reputation as a thoughtful musical soul and an even more thoughtful lyricist on Goldwater The Second, and proves that his creative brand is solid enough to bend and stretch stylistically without losing the identity he long ago etched for himself in Northampton’s creative culture.•
Purchase Goldwater The Second here: www.cdbaby.com/Artist/GoldwatertheSecond.