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City Center

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Album Review

Fred Thomas is one of the indie world's most prolific and multifaceted musicians, but with City Center, he shows that he still has the ability to surprise his listeners. With layers of electronic textures, percussion, found sounds, and ethereal reverb, City Center's self-titled debut album is easily the most abstract music Thomas has released under any moniker. Though the more experimental moments on Saturday Looks Good to Me's Cold Colors EP might have foreshadowed City Center's sound, Thomas and partner Ryan Howard take this approach to a beautiful extreme here, crafting tracks that range from "Summer School" and "Killer Whale"'s cloudy pop to whispery, atmospheric pieces, such as the nine-minute "Cloud Center," that could be called soundscapes without flinching. On the first few listens, songs like "Gladest," where dense vocal harmonies and various wispy, sparkling sounds revolve around a steadily strummed acoustic guitar, might prove challenging to Thomas fans who expect the more immediate songcraft of his other projects. On the other hand, City Center is one of the poppier acts on Type Records, home to the similarly gauzy and evocative Grouper. City Center's delicate experiments also call to mind collagists like Panda Bear, Benoît Pioulard, Animal Collective, and Atlas Sound, but these songs definitely belong to Thomas. The intricate atmosphere of songs like "Open/House" may catch listeners initially, but its thoughtful lyrics ("My heart is just another part of the place where you could stay") gradually make themselves heard; likewise, the gently epic "Bleed Blood" shares the uplifting spirit of Thomas' other music. "Young Diamond" submerges one of his most appealing vocal melodies in a wash of strings and distortion, and we don't really hear him clearly until City Center's gorgeously intimate closing track, "Unfinished Hex." There's almost a subversive aspect to how City Center doesn't play to Thomas' known strengths, but the risk pays off: City Center adds another fascinating dimension to his music.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Another project from the prolific Fred Thomas, City Center took his music in an atmospheric, often electronic direction more reminiscent of Atlas Sound or Panda Bear than the flawlessly structured songs of Saturday Looks Good to Me and his solo work. Taking the project's name from the "city center" signs found in many European cities, Thomas began recording as City Center during Saturday Looks Good to Me's post -Fill Up the Room hiatus, posting songs on the project's blog and issuing CD-Rs and cassettes...
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City Center, City Center
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