Chicago-based indie rock band Thompson Springs boldly launches into the awesomeness of its first full-length album, Undertones, with the prominent beat of a bass drum and a rocking electric guitar riff that introduces "Slightly Sexy," the album's energized opening track. "You're outlandish and perfectly cool," lead singer, guitarist and founding member Matt Smith sings as the song breaks and transitions from its captivating chorus. What a fantastic opening track - and it's all uphill from here, as Undertones is filled with one outstanding song after another.
Several years in the making, released in the midst of a global pandemic, and with a few changes to the band lineup, Undertones is a much welcomed soundtrack and poetic accompaniment to the countless 'undertones' that are all too prevalent in this challening year. Matt Smith recorded the album in Nashville with band members Jacob Bicknase (drums, arrangements, piano, synth, backing vocals) and Andy Goitia (bass, electric piano, backing vocals), working with producer and mult-instrumentalist Pat Sansone (Wilco, Autumn Defense), engineer Andy Freeman, with additional recording and mixing by Rob Laakso (Kurt Vile and the Violators).
Given that a full venue album release show was not prudent or possible at the July 31 release date for Undertones, Thompson Springs partnered with Chicago music venue Lincoln Hall + Schubas to host a virtual album release and livestream Instagram performance from their Logan Square backyard. With new band members Jeff Sullivan (guitar) and David Thrift (bass), Thompson Springs treated fans and neighbors to live versions of tracks from Undertones on a warm Friday evening in July.
I've been a fan of Thompson Springs from its debut EP, Artifacts (2016), and have witnessed the band's sound continually evolve and expand with sophomore EP, Fond Regards (2017) and now with Undertones. The band's solid songwriting, vocal delivery, instrumentation and production sparkle and shine throughout Undertones.
Following opening track "Slightly Sexy," next in line is "Sirens" - my favorite off Undertones. The wide-open acoustic treatments, fingerstyle-laden riffs, and unexpected transitions throughout this track make it a 'must hear' every time I queue up Undertones. "Deadly Stare" is slightly reminiscent of "Dandelion Queen" (from Fond Regards) at the intro with its tempo and chord progression. With a vocal style that brings to mind influences of Bob Dylan, Matt effortlessly and gently guides the listener through the song's dreamy musical atmosphere and honest lyric delivery: "It's been hard to steady my heart."
The subtle, sustained mellotron on "Rainbow" provides the perfect melancholic element that allows this beautiful song about looking back and reminiscing to shine. Channeling a bit of downtempo outlaw country and classic rock, "Over the Hill" evokes images of Western sunsets and tumbleweeds. The reflective and gentle-paced "Came From" slowly builds from its simple acoustic guitar accompaniment to full band sound. "Downswing" is an easy, relaxed acoustic-folk number with an atmospheric outro that provides a smooth transition to "American Rug," a lovely, piano-predominant ballad that provides the perfect closing to this outstanding album.