San Diego is known for morning fog and afternoon sun, pleasant dispositions and easy-moving traffic. The city is colorful and vibrant, and has produced a post-rock band to match. Often the Thinker‘s brass section may be its not-so secret strength, but its positivity is another defining mark.
The odd-numbered tracks are all under three minutes, the even numbered twice that length. The organ and pedal steel combination of opener “My Ivory” sets the tone while reflecting the LP’s title. We all need a little tenderness these days. Following suit, “Tenderness” is as gentle as can be, a pause for reflection preceding the construction of a Great Wall. A balance of positive and negative track titles underlines the struggle. Often the Thinker is only political by default, but their message seems to be, keep hoping for the brightest side of human nature to emerge.
As mentioned in our review of Better Part of Vice, the band is a natural heir to Do Make Say Think. Though they have nine musicians at their disposal, they dole out the brass in a manner that amplifies its impact. In “Choking, Warming, Stifling,” the players appear and disappear like choruses, coming around again like summer, causing the drummer great excitement in the third round.
Lead single “Soderlund at Pelican” has an unusual backstory concerning a Minnesota duck hunter who became a preservationist so that future generations could keep shooting birds. The information makes the trumpet sound like a duck call, but it’s a happy track, and to our knowledge no water fowl were injured in the recording. This all leads up to “Forgotten Instincts,” the pedal steel returning to center stage as the hitch drums hammer out a steady tempo. Then like a hot air balloon, the album descends slowly to earth. The players disembark, sharing warm farewells but not goodbyes, eager to meet once more beneath the soft San Diego sun. (Richard Allen)