Album Review: Thomas Comerford – Archive + Spiral

Thomas Comerford
Archive + Spiral

As the principal singer and songwriter in the band Kaspar Hauser, Thomas Comerford has built a reputation for his inventive take on roots rock. Archive + Spiral is less rocking and more country, with a vibe more living room than rock club. Comerford’s slightly nasal baritone recalls Lou Reed (a comparison underlined by his cover version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”), but he can actually sing and he isn’t an asshole. What he has picked up from the inimitable Lou is his rush-then-drag vocal delivery, as though what he’s trying to say is struggling against the surrounding music.

Thomas is all Midwest, a guy with an un-ironic fondness for mesh-back feed hats. The understated keyboards, acoustic guitars and especially the wistful slide guitars fit into what European reviewers like to call Americana. But Comerford is not a regionalist. Two of the most intriguing songs on this record are about the artist Joseph Cornell and the French filmmaker Robert Bresson. Neither are direct homages, instead they’re meditations on the mood each artist invokes. “Adam and Eve lay in the leaves–devil made them think they were incomplete” doesn’t have any objective relation to Bresson, but in Comerford’s dream logic they do. “It’s not what’s said, it’s what gets made, a shrine to the dead” is his tangential tribute to Joseph Cornell’s curiously evocative boxed assemblages of found objects.

Archive + Spiral suggests where others might state things directly. “I don’t have stories to tell, make you feel how I fell” he sings in “Gravity,” but he’s fibbing a bit. He has many stories, but you have to infer them from the details that surround them. You can enjoy this album as pleasantly understated modern folk music, but its depth derives from the way Comerford follows Emily Dickinson’s advice to “tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

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