Fred Thomas has a way with denouement. No matter that his music makes you want
to roll up the carpet and call over a few friends. The ember-sifting
lyrics of the Michigan band Saturday Looks Good to Me offer sharp, honest
reflections. Hearts have been hindered, and the couple rendered in song
couldn't be more broken up if they tried.
Every Night, produced by Thomas and His Name Is Alive's Warn DeFever, pairs favorites from a vinyl fan's record cabinet I hear The Association, the emotion of Small Factory and girl-group greats like The Shirelles with modern life (and love). SLGTM ably reference the heightened production of both Phil Spector and the more soulful Bert Burns (The Drifters, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke…) while still sounding emergent and contemporary.
Every Night is the follow-up to last year's All Your Summer Songs, a record that introduced the band and its unique sound to a larger audience than the previous scattering of singles, compilation appearances and enthusiastic live shows. Imagine a musical gathering to tip Lambchop's roster with many of the same instruments, including harp, accordion, lap steel, organ and trumpet.
Pretty girl vocals float up throughout, with Thomas either trading off or assuming
the lead. The setup works very well, as all of the credited female stylists newcomer
Betty Marie Barnes joins longtime members Kelly Jean Caldwell, Erika Hoffman
and Ko Melina provide just the right airiness or wronged finger-pointing
essential to romantic entanglements. What distinguishes this bandshell from,
say, Ladybug Transistor as good as they are is the use of vintage
sounds that still allow for punk and indie-rock influences.
"When the Party Ends" is an ideal example, entering with a fervent guitar strum reminiscent of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" until loosening into a more keen than maddening rhyme scheme. Thomas calls you on what you probably already think about the kind of people who would play this music, on what trendy pretense the associations are founded: "They know the demographic that we represent/ Because they heard all of our secrets through the heating vent/ So write another song about your discontent/ And wax nostalgic for a time less turbulent/ With metaphors like closet doors that won't open/ And you can use your list of words that rhyme with 'opulent.'" "Lift Me Up" is another standout, so infectious with a Johnny Marr-like guitar and harp glissade. The chorus betrays a girl's tumbling heart: "Baby, baby you make me so nervous!/ I think you do it on purpose (I know you do)." Then she'll tell him that she's leaving anyway.
Saturday Looks Good to Me has too much fun with romantic ballast. Call Fred Thomas a realist in the vein of Stephin Merrit's 69 Love Songs, where lovely arrangements coat some thinking pills. Likewise Thomas is unassuming enough to think that mundane postcards, like New York City, have any affecting melancholy left in them. They do. The usual remnants of a break-up story sound intimate and relevant on Every Night not to mention modern and polished.