Indiana Album review – Owen Thomas – “Languages”

Owen ThomasWith his first solo album, Owen Thomas will not escape comparisons to his former group, The Elms, the Indiana rock and roll band that disbanded nearly two years ago on the heels of their best album, The Great American Midrange

Owen Thomas’ new album Languages {Or: Get Dark & Find Yourself.}, the rocker has written a damn good set of songs about rejection and fortitude. Thomas clearly hasn’t run from the band’s sound.

Instead, he has created a more lyrically introspective record and allows two of his former bandmates – guitarist Thom Daugherty and Thomas’ brother Chris on drums – to give the set a familiar, though updated, sound.

And he wraps his words in music that is hook-filled, heartland power pop. He has crafted a record that takes a strong lyrical step into the potentially slicker space of pop music without losing the crunch and earthiness of the Elms.

The heartland combination of music and lyrics makes for one of the very best albums – national or local – of the 2012. “Houdini” opens the set an understated vocal amidst churning guitars and gospel-pop chord changes, finally giving way to Thomas’ “Philadelphia Freedom” shouts of “Yes I do” by song’s end.

“I Don’t Miss Carin'” may be the best cut on the record; a great groove that belies a bittersweet message to a former love. Daugherty’s guitar slides in and out with hard-strummed chords, and he adds a sweet and dirty little solo to Thomas’ vocal “whoo-whoo’s”.

Soul-based pop from an Indiana guy? “I Might Be a Ghost!” lets Thomas use his supple voice to turn the tune into a midtempo hip shaker.

It’s a tightly produced record, though thumping drums and a healthy slice of guitar seep their way into the mix, dare we say, perfectly. Daugherty and Thomas are a potent combination of vision, feel and execution. Gloss and raunch. Shine and grease. Neither player solely one or the other. The two former bandmates still work well together, sharing bits of beauty and midwest rock grit.

“I Am High Above You” glides along and slowly, and subtly turns into a pulsating little rocker. “What You Say and What You Do” brings memories of The Cars with some 1950’s doo-wop-ish chord changes.

One addition to recording canon here is the use of loops to give the album a contemporary feel. Much like Springsteen crafted his recent Wrecking Ball album around pieces of music and beats, looped together and overlayed with the trademark Boss sounds, Thomas travels a similar-sounding road. He shows chops as a rock singer in the Jagger tradition of sass and smart, and lets his guitarist and drummer push the energy level higher. Smartly done.

“Who Knows” closes the album with a nod to the old sound of The Elms. The song’s line “Who knows where the road is going” is as good of a theme as any to describe the new album. The record – and life – is a search for truth and resiliency when both facts and emotion intrude. As the closer provides a neat reminder of how good The Elms were as a band, the song also gives power to the new sounds on this record; the words and music of the entire album. It helps prove just how good the music is that Thomas is now making on his own.

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