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Aftering

by Fred Thomas

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1.
January’s colors curdle fast Eclipsed by their own fading as the world changes to glass The Sunday morning method acting class In fallout shelter basements always bracing for the blast Fifteen years of lessons and debris Accumulated everywhere but meant nothing to me One more sour glow, another sickly winter sunset Just another voice explaining this is all you get to be I was trudging through some ridiculous landscapes Straining my reach for each slippery hand I had long ago used up all of my recklessness I just wanted someplace to land There’s a poison that the small towns just can’t contain I heard those two got married to each other That’s so strange I hope it was just a perfect day I hope they got some money and I hope that they both changed I was still unstable and still on tour Still slightly drunk and sleeping fully clothed on someone’s floor Two separate pale perspectives pitying each other probably But when I heard that, something sick inside of me was cured I heard a voice somewhere tell me to start running In any direction at full speed There was no sweetness, sadness, anger, regret or resentment Just blinding, utter, total relief.
2.
The panic was here right from the beginning Started the year with alcohol poisoning Crumbling couples fighting in parked cars Wasted people smoking in front of closing bars All dressed up like the world’s about to end Destroyed at best But once these days are gone, they’re gone forever They’re never coming back again Three PM with all of the lights out Three day hangover at your parent’s house Detroit skyline twenty years older How come this year it feels so much colder? All dressed up in emergency room red Distressed But once these days are gone, they’re gone forever They’re never coming back again And in your head there is a voice repeating “I’m never doing this again."
3.
You’re only restless in your right mind You’re only confused when there’s no water on the lenses When terms are absolute Another hopeless ocean drinker swallowing all the blue Another vessel of undone dreams Like a kiss that misses the mouth A promise peeling off of the skin A miracle feeling with limited meaning You always overdosed on lost time Things that you didn’t do Three lovers sleeping in the same bed Some “Jane Says” karaoke fools And when you tried to make yourself puke It was no use It was already in your bloodstream Like a kiss that misses the mouth You just regurgitate what you’ve been A parasite feeding The world is uneven Even when the windshield popped out You were just a passenger buckled in Careening and bleeding You still couldn’t feel it You just want to sleep through the collision Sleep through every decision Twenty-one to thirty-seven Come to when you’re either forgotten or forgiven Your lungs fill with fluid in less than a minute.
4.
Suddenly we’re in a different place Good times are gone again This year nobody’s talking about How incredible their summer’s been Bad things are happening now Sharp days are wrapping around us All of this could be so beautiful It wouldn’t take a lot You still think you’re the only one Who had to fight for what they’ve got Old words come out of your mouth Bad things are happening now Bad things are happening now.
5.
The fall colors came the same in 2013 As any other year that we had ever seen But the entire town felt like an altar then Those nights were spent Digesting the ashes of a dead friend Putting barricades in place Cultivating contradictions Drinking whispers Everybody knew without even speaking Before it happens you recognize a pattern My skin stayed soft like cake The roads were unpaved And no one was actually saved at all But every attempt was made To hold on to that dislocating magic The sadness flattened every last thing In a lasting, manic gush There wasn’t much I could have said or done Short of upending the afterworld completely Walking through those days like a rabbit in a minefield You can’t feel the damage ‘til after it happens Everybody knew without even speaking It was wordless leaf fire smoke Murderous green bile choke And a sick, sullen floating The fall colors came again A pair of plastic fangs joined some dreams in the drain They told me “better days are on their way” Uh-huh The falls colors came containing unnameable flames It’s amazing that everybody stayed exactly the same Standing in the center at the altar.
6.
House show, late December Three noise acts Mixer feedback, busted four tracks Clusters of cables on card tables iPod DJ standing in the corner Playing the best tracks from Chandra, The Make*Up and Silk Flowers The dirty coat congregation comes together For a shit-talk session that feels like confession For tallboy communion Gathered to bemoan the bad year Gathered to bemoan the bad year Gathered to bemoan the bad year And the deep freeze outside Just punctuates how markedly miserable these last months have been This year can’t end soon enough Let the new one in Let the new one in. January first No one’s waiting for a shift in eras No one’s waiting for the anxiety to dissipate Because we all feel it daily I feel it mostly when I’m dazed, wandering around at Target Or at the airport Always two hours early Worried about security I get the impulse to curl up in the fetal position Lie down next to the drug dog And say “Help me. Help me get through this. I know we can do this, you and me.” Twenty three years old On my first tour that really made it out of the neighborhood Lovesick & Aloha Twenty eight shows in thirty one days Three hundred one dollar bills in the band fund U-Haul trailer dragging uphill Disposable camera that never left my hand And every picture I took Was of a vacant storefront, telephone wires, a cloud No people I was searching for meaning in everything I was chasing some kind of feeling that I couldn’t describe I couldn’t talk about I could only reach for. Seventeen years later I’m still in the same jail I’m still sending out these cassette tapes in the mail I’m still dreaming in scenes Of high fructose corn syrup corner stores Blunt wrap bodegas and now depanneurs A 3,000 page manuscript For a masterclass in colloquialisms of the working poor I see murders in the vape shop Yellow tape marks the scene off I got in a car with a stranger And he drove off the side of a mountain As we fell I just saw Emily’s face And I felt my head smash in before I woke up To piles of the same stuff Crushed cans Recycled psychic life spans Personal brands And fake love made of Waxy chocolate Bags of dog shit Backseat nauseous Taxi vomit Bathroom carpet Nasty apartment with a mattress in that tiny closet Casket coffin Sophomore drama Takes a grave to make the language soften Small town toxic So angry “SO AWESOME!” It’s fucking nonsense Nonstop talking The extraction tax and the added cost Fully lossless in their rawness The moldy ceiling and the leaky faucet and that dismissive pause Before you tell me there’s nothing wrong with this All these things you say there’s nothing wrong with There’s something wrong with Everything you say there’s nothing wrong with There’s something wrong with.
7.
It’s still early in the season But when I walk by the church With the janky donation thermometer Painted on its front wall The red bar still looks so small It’s still mostly white. These days I’m just observing Watching quicksand conversations I see my friends backslide And I’m waiting for a time when they’ll forget me I hope they forget me Because lately I can’t see What I used to love so much About this ugly room I keep singing to. It’s Wednesday morning In the parking lot of the Pharmaprix I see a mother around forty-three And her daughter, fourteen, fifteen And they’re fighting in French so I can’t make out the language I can just see the exhaustion on the mother’s hollow face And how the daughter simply hates her With that blinding, burning meanness only teens get Like she has to Like her mom did to her mom Like we all do And the mother loves her so much that she’s constantly terrified. What she can’t say but is everywhere Is a shivering plea Possibly the same sentiment mirrored in each of them “You’ve got the rest of your life to be angry You’ve got the rest of your life to be angry For right now, just pretend that you like me For just a little while Be nice to me.”
8.
You tell me everyday Where would I be without you Oh, I don’t even know. It’s the middle of September I slept maybe for an hour I have to make a flight by seven I’ll be gone just for the weekend For two shows outside of Philly That will pay my rent completely I feel kinda sick like always I’m not ready. There are still shards in the kitchen From the glass jar that I broke when I poured in boiling water I was less shocked by the shatter Than that I never saw it coming Ethan said, when we were younger That weird summer in Columbus “Things are written so big that you can’t even see them.” We are driving to the airport Fighting about something I read later it’s not uncommon To not be able to remember Any details or how you got there Like what even really happened? Never really even mattered. And you tell me I’m included But I always feel like nothing While your friends whisper about my weight And how they can see the outline of my stomach through my t-shirt See my skeleton climb out of my fucking mouth And start running away from this as fast as possible Leaving it to some other hapless fucker To get tricked into forgetting And having fights they can’t remember. I hope you feel perfect I hope that you stay famous I hope that your fans write poems to you About how you truly changed them And I hope they squeal and preen And tell you how you’re so amazing that they can’t even process it I hope that no one ever knows you. On some broken, rainy morning Before the sun clears through the clouds In a sky that is eternally apologizing Walk alone down to the banks of the rising river And with your hands in the sand Dig a small patch of ground And lie there repeating “I was wrong” Until either you feel better or the slow waves overtake you Neither one will happen. You tell me everyday Where would I be without you Oh, I don’t even know.
9.
It’s winter in the states The businesses are shuddered The inroads are flooded It’s just like the end of the world Where I’m living now It stays colder for longer The windows are frosted I’m looking out of the mouth of a well of remembering When I was eight years old My parents were worried I spent too much time alone, I was too angry I hated the kids in my grade So they drove us to a church A couple towns over Maybe we’d see some new faces Maybe I could make some friends my own age What the sermon said Was something about patience or mercy or serpents It felt like it lasted a long time When it was finally done We met the congregation Smiling and shaking hands I stood there with one of their sons He asked if I liked sports and I said “No” flatly So he just stared back at me saying nothing While the adults spoke above our heads After all of that we went to an Arby’s My parents drank coffee silently We never went back to that church.

about

Fred Thomas had been making music nonstop for years when a seismic shift in his creative process happened in 2013. Something mystical opened up in the fall of that year and the prolific songwriter moved from his already emotionally open style into an unprecedentedly direct and vulnerable lyrical approach as well as new levels of detail-fixated production. The songs took on ​a ​new urgency​, inspired by a feeling that life was beginning afresh while at the same time a lifetime of experiences were cementing into worlds of memory.​ ​The results of that creatively eruptive time began with 2015's critically hailed album All Are Saved, continued into the turbulent pop of 2017’s Changer and now ​float​ into Aftering, a record that feels like the final chapter of an unofficial trilogy.

Just as the two before it, Aftering was produced, mixed and assembled on location in a close collaboration between Thomas and Athens, Georgia based engineer Drew Vandenberg. All cut from the same cloth, Aftering ties the knots that connect all three records. Where both All Are Saved and Changer flitted nervously between moments of jangly powerpop,​ electronic​ interludes and experimental acoustic weirdness, Aftering maps out a far more intentional arc, burning through a first act of ​speedy​, hook-h​e​a​vy guitar ​rock before taking a sharp, brutal dive into an abyss on the album’s second half.

Modeled loosely after Neil Young’s On The Beach, the nine songs here move from ​jumpy ​two minute blasts into a suite of ​four ​protracted​ and​ moody ​interconnected ​pieces​.​​ At first, ​Thomas' signature mesh of soaring melodies and experimental pop keeps things upbeat even when burying intense topics on songs like "Alcohol Poisoning" or in the post-election unrest of "Good Times Are Gone Again." ​Beginning with 8-minute fever dream “House Show, Late December,” the ache​ that sits ​in the core of the ​album comes to the surface completely. From here guitars almost vanish from the instrumentation​ and​ the focus shift​s​ to tightly arranged strings, ominous synth​s​, ambient waves and ​spoken ​lyrics somewhere between poetry and desperate confession​. ​These longer songs drift in and out of each other slowly, drowning into their own lush darkness and heavy observations on anxiety, family and emotional abuse. ​

Connecting all three albums to an even deeper degree, Aftering finally realizes loose threads that began on earlier records, and calls on special guest​s​ from all phases of ​Thomas'​ life. Anna Burch returns to sing on ​buoyant ​single “Altar” and longtime friend and collaborator Elliot Bergman helps sculpt the ​crystalline​ vibe of album closer “What The Sermon Said.” Newer friends show up as well, with members of Bonny Doon, Common Holly, Deadbeat Beat and other artists ​Thomas connected with through years of touring showing up in supporting roles over the course of the record. Wolf Eyes member and noted memelord John Olson even contributes some fried horns and electronics.

More than anything, Aftering calmly sets down the restless questioning and turmoil of the trilogy. Instead of landing on any tidy conclusion or neatly wrapping up a thesis, the album illuminates the themes of observation and acceptance that have run throughout ​Thomas' work for the last five years. Aftering reflects on an answerless and uncertain future, trying to make sense of it through scattered memories that flash like mental postcards. A sense of larger, universal ​dread ​refracts through these moments of searching. Ultimately, it’s not the dark times or bleakness that lingers, but a sense of connection and hope that comes from trying to communicate them as honestly as possible. Aftering, like the chapters that came just before, can feel sometimes​ painful, but there’s a clarity and beauty that’s always there as well, equally bright in even the darkest moments.

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released September 14, 2018

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