REVIEW: Max Shrager - Thoughts of You

Laura Kerry

Max Shrager wrote and recorded the songs on his EP Thoughts of You—his debut as a solo artist—over the last five to six years. In that time, he moved to New York, worked with Daptone Records and Dunham Records as a producer, and played guitar and wrote for Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens and Lee Fields, among other soul and rock musicians. That’s an impressive five-year resume for anyone, but it’s particularly impressive for someone who turned 20 this year.

As evidenced by his collaborators and labels of choice, Shrager’s musical influences far outreach his age. In his work for others, he produces in analog, often using a four-track recorder, a machine used by the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and other early rock musicians. Thoughts of You shares that old-timey aesthetic, marked by warmth and the lo-fi hum of compressed instruments. Each song on Shrager’s EP reminds the artist of a specific time in his life, but for the audience, the nostalgia reaches back much further.

From the first notes on the album—a combination of sparkling guitar, a prominent bass line, and a soft flute sound—Thoughts of You is a trip back in time, immersive and groovy enough to transport the listener. With its scratchy compression and lyrics such as, “I saw her in a dream… / Her saffron hair in the wind / Blew indigo,” the voice upholds the visit to the past with its traces of psychedelia and soul. Throughout the six songs, genres and influences vary. “Girls of the Galaxy” drifts more decisively towards the trippy with its psychedelic space organ, and with its fuzzed out guitar, more towards the modern; “Train Song” sounds like a tape discovered in a basement box labeled “1972”; and “You’re Still There,” with jangly guitars and chilled out vibe, is more akin to present-day Mac DeMarco or Real Estate. 

On an album marked by its references, the production choices are just as significant as the songwriting and composition. The best songs on the EP, such as “Thoughts of You,” feature a perfect balance of clarity and lo-fi haze. Though the voice is compressed and the drums are dry, the bass and guitar pop enough to maintain structure, and the result sounds both airy and small, like a record player spinning quietly in a tiny room. Shrager is less successful when he gets mired in effects. “Silver,” for example, feels muddy. Mostly, though, the artist has great command over his craft. Thoughts of You—one of many things we’ll see from Shrager on his own, in his band, The Shacks, or with the many collaborators who will continue to seek him out—captures a specific time in the young artist’s life, but it is completely timeless.