Something I always love is when a piece of music surpasses my first impression and earns itself a spot in my ever-changing rotation. These Curious Thoughts, a cross-Atlantic songwriting duo made up of Detroiter Sean Dunlop and Londoner Jamie Radford, are definitely worth checking out! Their latest album, Making Friends with the Universe, released on Viaduct Records on June 25, 2020, will surprise you with its effortless charm.
The first spin of this record left me underwhelmed, but not displeased. I thought the vocals were a bit shaky in some spots and I really wasn’t too sure about the faux reggae “These 4 Walls” or the faux blues “Rockn’ Rolling.” I also wasn’t fully convinced by the whole tripped-out, druggy aesthetic, which can come off as cheesy and inauthentic. Thankfully, a few more listens helped me forgive these small and inarguably subjective flaws and focus on Sean and Jamie’s exceptional musical and lyrical storytelling abilities. I got sucked into this record; I’ve listened to it at least four or five times in the past fortnight! It’s just the right mix of familiar with original, complex with simple, and serious with silly.
With some hindsight, it’s easy to explain why I feel this way: this alt-rock gem of an album meanders smoothly through musical territory previously scouted by some of my favourite and most enduring artists. There’s some R.E.M. here, but also some Phish, some Radiohead, some Neil Young and some of the round, glassy string tones mastered by Explosions in the Sky. It’s an eclectic and tasteful mix that makes me want to write down countless other references, yet retains a strong original feel of its own. In short, while not a perfect record, Making Friends with the Universe checks all of the most important boxes.
Highlights of this album include opening track “Targets of your Ridicule” with its fragile yet convincing delivery, followed by title track “Making Friends with the Universe.” It’s more of a “one-two beckon” than a “one-two punch,” but it sets the mood! Something worth noting is that I got a good few earworms from this record, including hooks from “Garden Girl,” “Shoes and Human Animals” and “Shut Your Mouth.”
Finally, like many amazing albums, Making Friends with the Universe left me guessing when it would end – at least two of the final four tracks could have closed things out, but the privilege was left to the hopeful and optimistic “Speak Your Mind.” I have to hand it to These Curious Thoughts: their steadfast originally won me over, and I’m already looking forward to their next release!
Written by Henri Brillon
*Edited by Dominic Abate