On Surf's Up!, Thomas' new album with Two Pale Boys, he revisits places that don't miss you when you leave and where the myth of the road and its freedom are a mirage. Underpinned by Andy Diagram, playing trumpet through radio receivers, echo machines, and delays, and Keith Moline on a MIDI guitar setup with washes of electronics, its a woozy avant-folk sound--Americana played by expatriates. Surf's Up! leads off with "Runaway" and takes the listener on a wild goose chase through "Man in the Dark" and "Night Driving." "Surf's Up" is the Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks tune, played as a trumpet and melodeon folk crawl, dislocated from its origins and more humane for it.
"Nights like this I feel the weight of history/and I hear somebody explaining it in my ear up close/All these obligations," Thomas whispers on "Ghost." The song is all undertow, a moody traveling salesman fighting fatigue as he drives, telling us just how tired he really is.
Someone is always tearing down something old, something with sentimental attachments, to put up something ugly in Thomas' songs, as they do on "River," where "they put up a sign about what they had done." The music is a trumpet-driven funeral procession with Thomas' distorted braying vocals unfolding.
"Some days I feel like a motherless rage," Thomas intones on "Night Driving." "I frame the future in cinemascope/And they don't make these colors anymore." Road maps and ghost towns course through the songs on Surf's Up!. He is trying to navigate his way out of a dead end, out of history's cul-de-sac. Thomas' fascination with Brian Wilson is his way of channeling a golden era he misses and missed even then, because it never existed. All towns are ghost towns and he's just passing through.