Cars and Trains is Tom Filepp. And he’s released, We Are All Fire earlier this month. I was anticipating this record kind of like a bird waiting to ride an updraft. I wanted to soar again with Cars and Trains thanks to the layered talents of a one-man band. We Are All Fire satisfied the craving, but not how I was expecting it to.
I first found Cars and Trains in an extremely transitional time. I was between homes, or more accurately like a ghost in the hallways of my own. I was first attracted to the emotional discord and redemption of Cars and Trains’ songs, because it felt like they were lifting me while I was in a free fall. A thermal wind of analog melodies and digital drums.
It is precisely that digital/analog blend that gives Cars and Trains its distinct sound. Like some kind of a prolific street performer, Tom Filepp layers instruments over instruments in an ever-evolving, ever-more-complex concoction. He’s a tinkerer, more comfortable trying out new buttons to press, new knobs to twiddle, new nipples to pinch, than following some formula for what his music should sound like. This is both a curse and a blessing.
Being a creative, being someone who refuses to settle for conventional, someone who pushes themselves to see how far the envelope will bulge before it spills its illicit contents all over the floor of the post-office (true story), comes with risk of failure. I, so far, don’t love We Are All Fire like I did the previous release. Maybe it’s where I’m at, or where I’m not. Maybe it’s whatever Filepp has been going through, but this effort seems more subdued, more cerebral. It’s being an artist ready to set fire to all that has come before and start again. We Are All Fire, but it might take a little while for the kindling to catch.
That being said, We Are All Fire has astounding moments and it is steadily growing on me, especially Filepp’s writing. “Little black birds in my family tree” gave me such pause. There are so many way to take that. I’ve always felt like the black sheep of my immediate family, mostly because my worldview is in direct opposition to almost anyone whom with I share DNA. My family also has a few unsavory characters tucked away on far-reaching and not-so-distant branches. “10,000 ships launched by 10,000 mediocre quips tangled in the beehive of our inhibitions,” is an Iliad-ic take on today’s microwaveable culture. The seeming impermanence of the world that surrounds us, and the tiniest implication of an offense that causes dudes to break out the bazookas and blow up embassies and shit doesn’t border on insane, it’s a fucking nationalized citizen of United States of Holy shit Bags!
World events have been so heavy lately. Revolutions, counter-revolutions, authority, as usual, overstepping the boundaries of power, assassinations, and an ever-devolving election process have all got me hovering between apathetic and curling up into a little ball until the monsters go away. So pardon if this record is a bit of a lament. I think like all great artists, Cars and Trains is a sponge. Absorbing culture, and current events, reflecting them through a highly-personal lens and reflecting them back to us as music. We have been lost in a storm of late. We Are All Fire is more a ship’s log than it is lighthouse. In the end, it’s every man for himself, and this time I have a feeling the captain’s going down with the ship while the band plays.