Fred Thomas’ music has always been marked by a certain quality, a direct and un-ironic approach that puts him in that rare class of performers who seem to have pop in their blood, feeling almost like Jonathan Richman in his ability to make heartfelt music that’s pretty and fun and sounds nice simply because heartfelt music is pretty and fun and sounds nice. This kind of clarity and earnestness is what makes City Center feel like a departure for the Great Lakes State auteur, opting for songs that have a more ethereal, drifting quality about them than one would expect based on his prolific body of work. On Redeemer, Thomas and co-conspirator/collaborator Ryan Howard take the relaxed, soundscape feel of their 2009 self-titled debut, but add a new sense of direction to the songwriting. While there are still layers of atmosphere to get lost in, the songs feel decidedly more concise, keeping the sonic depth of City Center while moving away from the sprawling, aimless feeling that sometimes popped up on that album. This sea change makes for an album that still feels radically different, but somehow more familiar, as if you were catching strains of a Saturday Looks Good to Me song on some far-off radio station, briefly picking up bits of melody as the wind shifts. Despite moving more toward the rest of his work, Redeemer still establishes City Center as a separate entity from Thomas’ other projects, giving the group an identity that might have touchstones in some of his earlier work, but is most definitely an entity in and of itself.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney