Continuing in the direction of Fred Thomas' previous two albums, the equally outstanding All Are Saved and Changer, Aftering is filled with vivid descriptions of particular moments from throughout the prolific songwriter's life, as well as more general encapsulations of the bleak, uncertain feelings clouding the landscape of late-2010s America. The album is split between concise, adrenalin-spiked garage-pop tunes and more sprawling experimental pieces which sometimes recall Flashpapr, the slowcore group Thomas formed back in the mid-'90s. Throughout the album, numerous past collaborators and tourmates pop up like memories in order to contribute vocals, strings, horns, and additional instruments and textures. Following the sun-soaked drift of opener "Ridiculous Landscapes," which touches on tour experiences and the news of two past acquaintances' marriage, "Alcohol Poisoning" kicks off a block of fuzz-heavy rock songs themed around nostalgia, regret, and confusion (not to mention drinking). Without making specific references to anything, "Good Times Are Gone Again" is a direct, uncomplicated expression of the realization that we are in the midst of a grim state of being, and the simpler, more joyful days are long behind us. "House Show Late December" begins the album's more expansive second half, describing in great detail the bemoaning of a passing bad year at a noise show in someone's basement. While there's hope for the new year, there's still the reality that a lot of terrible, wrong things are never going to go away, so it's hard to escape the negativity. Even darker is the harrowing "Slow Waves," an ambient tone poem where Thomas recollects pointless arguments and seethes rage against an unnamed celebrity. Concluding everything is "What the Sermon Said," a fascinating story recalling an easily relatable awkward childhood incident, and a handy summation of what makes Thomas' music so unique.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson