Listening to Fred Thomas’ All Are Saved often feels like traveling down the path of most resistance. Thoughts are thought and instantly contradicted, revelations made and then backtracked — it’s a beautiful mess of ideas and doubts, bold declarations and crippling neuroses. There is no easy way out, there are no simple answers. It is confessional in the truest sense, a look inside of a mind that lives and breathes and regrets and is never sure of exactly what to say. His musings are fodder for analysis, specific couplets begging to be treasured. It’s a record that’s most rewarding when you sit down and allow yourself to pore over the lyrics, a 40-minute respite from flicking between a dozen tabs on the internet and absorbing things piecemeal. In many ways, All Are Saved is a writer’s record, a gift to look over every prickly line and clever turn of phrase. But above all, it’s an overwhelmingly human record, one that never strays too far from its heart.
Thomas’ wordy meditations are smart and acutely accurate, often heartbreakingly tender. “This isn’t fiction,” he states on “Bad Blood,” and then immediately heel-turns: “Well, actually, mostly it is. Or a series of IRL moments cloaked in the vagueness that songs give. But when there’s nothing to say and you’ve got to say something… Fuck, I don’t even know.” His songs explore the fragmented nature of memory, how sometimes our perceptions of an event are more real and true than the event itself. They pass like those flickers of images that cross our mind that remind us of a time and a place and a feeling — even if they’re not entirely accurate, they evoke an emotion stronger than reliving the experience ever could.
One of my favorite moments on the record comes on “Monster Movie.” As the music slows to a dimly lit crawl, Thomas describes a conversation between two lovers drifting apart: “In a whisper on a front porch: ‘Could you be more? Could you be more for me?’ It’s not enough.” All Are Saved often reads like an old diary entry that you dig up a few years after writing, flipping through potent old wounds and misguided anger and thoughts that maybe should never leave the confines of your own head. But it’s clear that Thomas wants these songs to have an audience. Sometimes, he’s practically screaming for it, even if his voice rarely travels above a droll monotone. On tracks like “Cops Don’t Care Pt II,” he questions society as a whole, a messy conflagration of political ideas that comes across as decisive and filled with just enough doubt to come across as true. But, mostly, Thomas sticks to the mundane, and to poignant ends. At one point, he simply lists things that remind him of childhood — “puffy eyes, play fights, bug bites, Jif peanut butter, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, strawberry allergy, bee stings” — and it feels like the most accurate description that could possibly exist.
The album welcomes personal projection. It reminds me of a lot of things, forcing me to reflect on some uncomfortable truths that I usually try not to think about: both of my parents dying over the past few years, that I’ve never been in love in the unironic sense of the word, how sometimes I treat my friends like shit because I’m not comfortable enough with myself. It inspires me to write, to aspire to be a little better, to take a step back and look at my life and what I’ve been given and what has been taken away. On “Expo ’87” — a song that reaches a tone of caustic celebration that reminds me of Kevin Barnes on “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” — Thomas remarks: “Anybody who’s ever lost a tooth, it doesn’t bring you any closer to the truth, but you do start to recognize things.” It’s a brutal album, one that isn’t afraid to examine the impact loss can have on a person’s life. It’s one that brings out the worst and the best in yourself.
All Are Saved poses a generalization in its title that is never really expanded on. For a record that’s so steeped in dread and painful memories and biting self-examinations, it strikes a hopeful note that may seem at odds with the album itself. But it feels oddly appropriate for a record that’s so full of contradictions, an overarching reminder that, even in light of all of our pain, we will be okay.
All Are Saved is out 4/7 via Polyvinyl Records.