“Want to go on a mall date?” Thom Coombes asked a friend one rainy day in April. Despite his widely shared aversion to the mall, Thom needed something from the place and did not want to go it alone. “My friend was cooped up enough to come with me.” And so the title of Thom’s new album was born.
After ten plus years of writing and releasing music, Thom hit a particularly prolific streak around 2013 and then suddenly went quiet. But just as a day of being stuck inside due to bad weather turned an otherwise dull trip to the mall into a fun adventure with a friend, his period of being creatively “cooped up” turned into a pleasant surprise.
Thom began the album with much the same attitude that he had about going to the mall that rainy April day – it was something he had to get done. “This album was initially just going to be an EP,” he says. “I felt a little burnt out and needed to record these songs in order to ditch them, a spring cleaning to make room for more.” Then Thom initiated a musical ‘mall date’ of sorts, inviting friends to join him in working on the album. The friends in question turned out to be a who’s who of local musicians including Aley Waterman, Bucky Quagmire, Scrambled Meggz, Scott Royle, and Ilia and Jake Nicoll to name a few. “Everything just kept getting bigger,” he says. “It turned me around, and at some point during the process I started to feel excited about what I was doing.”
A Perfect Day for a Mall Date is indeed a work to get excited about. In terms of quantity and diversity of material you could say that this is Thom’s White Album, a collection of stark contrasts which somehow complement each other beautifully. Dreamy instrumentals like “Floral Fixation” and the quirky, keyboard based “Bananafish Boogie” are juxtaposed against thoughtfully crafted gems like “Coming Apart” and “Slow Learner” which are as akin to Dylan as they are Daniel Johnston. “I started throwing songs on there that I felt wouldn’t fit on any other album, all these odds and ends. I was afraid of it turning out more like a collection of B-sides, but I think these songs go well together and flow the way I intended it to.”
Regarding the magnitude of material Thom says, “I wanted the album to be excessive, overwhelming, and take a long time for the listener to become familiar with the songs. I like the idea of someone hearing the album after a few times and thinking ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about this song.’” Mission accomplished. This is a dynamic record that you rediscover with every listen. Rockers like “Old Life” and “Check Engine Light” might become instant favorites, while the laid back grooves of “Track & Field” and “Dream Sequence” take a little longer to sink in. Meanwhile, nostalgia junkies like me will keep going back to the grungier moments like “That’s Not Why We’re Friends” and “Unknown Pleasures.” So the process of falling in love with this album goes. It constantly reveals a new aspect of itself; a clever lyric, a kooky guitar lick, an obscure reference, almost as if you are hearing it for the first time.
Part of the album’s charm is the warm cohesion resulting from being recorded to tape. A long time 4-track recording enthusiast, Thom has worn out several of these now archaic machines over the years on past projects. “The 4-track is just where I feel comfortable. I’ve always liked bedroom-made music, and while that doesn’t happen on a 4-track so much anymore, it’s what I grew up making music on. There’s also something forgiving about it.”
That being said, A Perfect Day for a Mall Date is an album that needs no forgiveness. This album of humble beginnings had its hidden potential realized to become a touchstone in the collective work of an artist who already has much to be proud of. “Even though I didn’t know it at the time that I started this project, I feel like this is an album I’ve always wanted to make,” says Thom. “This is the album that sums up something about my music.”
Stream or buy the album here: https://thomandthetomcats.bandcamp.com/album/a-perfect-day-for-a-mall-date