Seth Thompson seems to be a love-him-or-hate-him musician, the kind of guy who’s a hit with the people who “get” him and a complete miss with the people who don’t. He’s the folk rock equivalent of Monty Python. Even the title of his newest disc, his third, will either amuse or irritate: Nowhere Sometimes — sort of like Good News for People Who Love Bad News and Nobody Knows This Is Everywhere (itself an imitation of a similarly paradoxical title). Readers who find themselves irritated might want to leave off now.
The amused, however, will find a lot to enjoy on this disc. Seth has a knack for droll turns of phrase. “Living in fear/makes me want the lobe of your ear/…Israel and Iraq/only remind me of the small of your back,” he sings on the sly blues number “Love Song #68749.” And on “Melt”: “As the snow shrinks/under the sun/then I thinks/I thinks you’re the one”; also not forgetting “I need you/to be the strumpet on my codpiece” from “My Trombone’s Got No Mouthpiece.” And his musicianship is impressive, as he moves effortlessly from clarinet to bass to acoustic guitar to pump organ to percussion. His songwriting culls from as many genres as instruments he’s able to play.
Seth’s vocals jar from time to time, particularly on the high or extended notes (though this may strike some as part of his slacker charm), and there are bound to be mixed feelings about the long musical poem “Spill,” which has alternating moments of inspired free verse and sloppy pretentiousness. “The tired mind is a linear mind” is an instance of the former; musing on the sexual connotations of the El’s red line an instance of the latter. His lighthearted side (“Beat Poets”) is often more welcome company than his earnest side (“One Last Thing,” “Below”), resulting in occasional lulls. Some of his better lyrics have been paired with unforgivably repetitive songs (“Melt”).
Nowhere Sometimes will not suit everyone’s palate. Few albums do. But on the whole it’s a fresh, considered and entertaining release, with the promise of a rollicking live show to boot. Chances are that he would hook a lot more listeners by offering a few carefully selected free tracks as MP3 on his website.