In 2020, R.D. Thomas went solo with the release of his debut EP Headlines. He wanted to create something of his own after spending time as a touring multi-instrumentalist for Ben Howard and Paolo Nutini, as well as frontman for Brother & Bones. It was a collection of songs that showcased his lyrical and vocal talents, as well as a captivating soundtrack. He then released the EPs, This Bloom, With Arms Around You, and Out For The Country.
Last year, he released the singles “Paint by Numbers You”, “Sugar Coated Brain”, and “Numbers Game”. They were a taster of what to expect from his album What Circus Is This? When asked about the album, he says, “There’s a melancholy to the music, but lyrically there needed to be enough playfulness to make this work. Getting tangled in the big, unanswerable questions is as absurd as it is poignant. I guess that is the theme. The lyrics are the most important thing on this record. The music – even the voice – is just a vehicle for the words. I guess this is the reason I didn’t chase perfection in production values or performances. I just wanted to create a canvas for the words, and to find the right colours for them through music”. What Circus Is This? is now out in the world for us all to hear.
R.D. Thomas delivers a captivating collection of songs with his debut album ‘What Circus Is This?’
When you first listen to What Circus Is This? you have to appreciate the vocal presence of Thomas. From the opening track, “Headlines”, all the way through to “Numbers Game”, his voice is mesmerising. He uses this talent to add a wide range of emotions to help bring his lyrics to life. For example, “For My Next Trick” is like an interlude where he repeats the line, “And for my next trick…goodbye!”. He lets the words flow and gives them space to breathe. Even though it is one line, he makes it say much more.
Then there are moments like “Stray Dog” when his voice is used to perfection to share his stories. A song that sees a delicate tone to his delivery and adds an irresistible charm to his words, especially with the lines, “Still waiting, while sun sets / on the dark side of me”. This trait stands out further during “And I’m Gone”. Due to its stripped-back sound, his voice is firmly in the spotlight. Again, his soft tone creates a captivating mood that grabs your attention from the start and does not let go until it ends.
As much as the vocals by Thomas are outstanding, he has so much more to offer. He uses this talent to bring his lyrics to life. The range of his writing is impressive. “Sugar Coated Brain” makes you sing along to the hook, “You know me / Can’t complain / Sugar-coated / Sugar-coated brain”. While “Numbers Game” shows some great wordplay with lines such as, “Those that just watch / We call insane / That they never learned to play”. But, when he moulds his words to create stories, it’s Thomas at his best. The perfect showcase of this is the title track. It’s one of those moments when you sit back and enjoy the tale.
The final piece of this outstanding album is its soundtrack. Like everything else, it offers a variety of moods that enhance the listening experience. “Headlines” offers a simplistic feel with electronic elements to ease the listener in. While “Paint by Numbers You” gets your foot tapping with its upbeat tempo and singing along with its hook, “Can’t blame me / That you can’t bless everything / Don’t bless me / That I can’t blame everything”. There are still more sounds to be found within What Circus Is This? If you want to hear some beautiful work on the piano, listen to “This Bloom”.
This album has a lot to offer, and the calibre of the songwriting is constantly high. Two moments stand out more than the others. The first one is “Welcome to the Deep End”. From the moment it starts, his upbeat guitar creates an infectious mood. When the lyrics come in, they are shared with a flow to match the soundtrack. If that isn’t enough to make this one stand out, then the chorus will. It is hard not to sing along with the repeated line, “You know I can do better than that”. It’s one of those songs that feels right.
The second moment is “Salt”. The combination of his soft guitar style and delicate vocals is stunning. On top of that, his storytelling abilities shine yet again. His words drift along with urgency, with enough space for the listener to take them in. You can hear the heartache within the song, reflected in lines like, “There’s no way to say it easily / I am so sorry, I’m so sorry / Hope your tears are up for drying out / Before the sunny season”. It is a beautiful moment worth your listening time, but all of them do. It is a stunning album that R.D. Thomas deserves all the praise it will receive.