It amazes me how resilient artists can be. Some of them fold into dust when their first project goes unnoticed or runs out of steam, while other pick themselves back up and go in for another beating. Then there are those restless unicorns, whose talent can never be confined to one project and end up finding outlets wherever they can. So it is with Thomas Calder, the brilliant singer-songwriter, actor and philosopher who has already floored me a number of times in his previous life as the frontman of The Trouble With Templeton. Daggy Man, his self-reflexively titled new solo guise, is a study in intimate closeness, taking all of the grand musical elements that made his band so enticing, shearing them down and burying them deep into your psyche. It’s the kind of music that could easily be passed over in the crowded noise-scape of our digital lives, but is so utterly rewarding to listen to that I simply have to tell you about it.
Calder has an amazing range, which is known to anyone who’s ever seen him perform. What’s perhaps less remarked on is how expressive his tone is, the way he enunciates his phrases up-close to the microphone and how you can hear his emotions filter through his mouth. I guess this is what you get from training in the dramatic arts, but there’s nobody who sings sentences quite like Calder does. ‘Lovers On A Hospital Wing’, one of many standouts from his debut Daggy Man record, A Lazy Kind Of Pain, is a great example of this. Stripped of his band, the focus is all on Calder’s quivering-but-totally-in-control tenor, recorded in a style Elliot Smith has now made an inevitable reference. But whereas Smith’s voice was known to be light despite its owner’s darkness, almost threatening to float away on some songs, Calder is the opposite. His melody is rooted somewhere deep in his gut, and at times feels like it’s part of the acoustic guitar, multi-tracked and all-encompassing.
But we’re all here for that chorus. It’s a thing of tragic beauty, really, and you can feel exactly what went into creating it. It’s the kind of thing that stops you dead when you’re walking home from work, soaring through layers of accrued depression to make something fleetingly beautiful. I love the story, I love the execution, but mostly, I love that almost five years after first hearing Calder sing on record, the man can still pick up a guitar and completely challenge the way I think about acoustic music.