Fair to Midland – Arrows & Anchors
Release Date: 12 July 2011
Label: eOne Metal
We recieved a link to the webstream of the new Fair to Midland last night, and I finally got around to listening to it for the first time. Since things are slow right now I figured that I would give my initial impressions based on a single listen. For those that are into pain, there is also a track-by-track that was written in real time as I was listening to the album. Below that is the official video for “Musical Chairs.”
My overall impression of this album is that it is not nearly as instant as Fables From a Mayfly. The choruses and vocal melodies are good, but they aren’t as simple and catchy as they previously were. This shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing, though, because the album is definitely going to be one that grows on people. One negative that I can point out is that the vocalist was definitely much more restrained on this album. He never hits those high notes or odd melodies the way he did before. This kind of makes the first listen blend together a little bit because the vocals are all very similar for the most part. It’s also not nearly as heavy or chaotic as the song floating around Youtube would have you believe. Now that it’s established what is missing, we should get into what the album actually is. The music on this is very dense with a lot of subtle little things going on. Their use of piano, synth and electronics has increased and it gives the songs a very layered feel. The vocals, too, have become much more complicated with multiple vocal tracks and harmonizations being the norm. There are a few moments that are defintely heavier than the last album, but it’s nothing new for those that heard The Carbon Copy Silver Lining. Overall, the album is much more musical and progressive and a bit of the hooky feel has been lost in the process, but I truly feel that multiple listens may eventually place this at the top of their discography… off to start listen number 2.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here…..
Heavens to Murgatroyd: This is a 44 second intro track apparently. It consists of church-like vocals with some dude talking over it with a southern accent… can’t make out what he’s saying.
Whiskey & Ritalin: Holy Hell! From that quiet introduction a chaotic mix of pounding drums and guitar noise has blasted out. This has transitioned into kind of a punk/metal hybrid riff. Before I can finish typing that sentence it’s quieted down a bit and the vocals have come in, and I’m hearing a bit of keyboards in the background. First impression, the vocals are definitely more subdued so far. None of the weird tones and higher registers. A cool little piano melody has been introduced over the riffs. It’s definitely Fair to Midland, but apparently it’s going to be a totally different ride than Fables From a Mayfly was. Overall a track that goes from very noisy to something a bit more subdued without ever losing the energy levels it started with (but never really pushing over the top either).
Musical Chairs: This begins with a sole piano melody… okay that was short lived. Orchestral keyboards and a proggy riff have just jumped in and then a stifled growl. Vocals and a cool little bassline have been introduced… okay, this sounds more like the Fair to Midland that I remember. Soaring vocals in the chorus and little keyboard flourishes. Perfection. The main difference seems to be the brief moments of dissonance and aggression that will remind people of The Carbon Copy Silver Lining.
Uh-Oh: Squealing noise with drums and keyboards fading in. The main riff has taken a backseat to another well done piano melody. The riff itself is kind of odd sounding — it’s hard to describe, sorry. It’s almost like a thin buzzing sound. Based on the lyrics, I think they’re almost trying to imitate a fly’s buzzing. Another big chorus with quite a bit of keyboard backing. So far the choruses aren’t as catchy as the previous album and the riffs aren’t as instant. This will take people a few more listens to get into, I think.
Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow: Banjo, violin and a start/stop riff. Interesting. Defintely bringing some of that folk influence to the forefront. Again, the vocals still seem to be more restrained than in the past — I’m kind of missing the vocal acrobatics of the last album. The more aggressive nature of the album is still apparent, but it’s not as dominating as I assumed it might be. This song is kind of losing my interest…. well, the thrashy riff and quick solo was a welcome addition.
A Loophole in Limbo: Ambient electronics and whispering. This is starting well. There’s kind of blanketing, warm synth melody over another riff and some electronics now. This sounds really good, so far. Ok, they’ve moved from the heavier section to a mellow part… kind of sensing a trend now. Decent chorus… it’s kind of subdued, but it fits the overall direction that was established on the little intro part. Again, not nearly as catchy or instant as the previous album. Not as aggressive as the last few songs either. I could definitely see this song growing on me, though.
Typhoid Mary Sends Her Best: 57-second song. Just a warped electronic melody or maybe it’s just a weird synth sound. Unremarkable and over already…
Short-Haired Tornado: I’m basically repeating myself by now… Track-by-tracks suck for a reason. Anyway, another heavier introduction, mellows out when the vocals and keyboard melody comes in, and — wait for it– yep, big chorus. To be fair, though, this is one of the better songs so far. Kind of christmas-like with the faint vocal harmonies and bouncy synth melody. Now there are a lot of layered vocals here and the main vocal melody is really catchy. Might end up being my favorite song. It’s catchy and kind of unique.
The Upset at Bailey Bridge: Another 52-second track. These are definitely electronic samples and a keyboard loop behind it. Not terrible.
Rikki Tikki Tavi: This is the track that has been floating around Youtube, but you haven’t heard it like this. Starts out with a subtle piano/vocal melody before breaking into a scream and raging riff. He’s yelling with a deep growl, but now there are all kinds of weird spoken-word vocal (samples?) taking over. Chaotic and very Mr. Bungle/Though Industry-ish. It’s all over the damn place in the best way possible. Abruptly stops and breaks into a lulling balllad-ish melody and delicate vocals… saw this coming, back to the screaming, and abruptly back to the balladish part. No wonder they’ve been playing this live. This definitely breaks the more homogenous feel of the first part of the album.
Golden Parachutes: Very riffy song with another strong chorus. They’re definitely using the keyboards and electronics more effectively on this album. The main keyboard on the chorus almost have a soundtrack-ish feel to it. While we’re on that subject, the chorus is another strong one — just not ‘instant’. As the album is going on it seems apparent that these songs are built more to rock than to sing along to. There’s a lot more going on in them than on previous releases. Headphones would probably do this album a lot of justice.
Bright Bulbs & Sharp Tools: Kind of a bluesy, lounge-act vibe going… a bit of funk too, maybe. Guitar riff and synth loop come in for the big chorus. Still haven’t heard the kind of vocal lines that dominated the previous albums. It might be a heavier album overall (barely, by the way) but the vocals are definitely more subdued.
Coppertank Island: This one is very electronics heavy. The drummer is playing kind of a up-tempo dance beat. Again, there are a lot of layered vocal harmonies here. He’s finally kind of stepping out with his vocal melodies. Moving from Voivod-ish spoken word sections to soaring highs, with an almost-constant backing harmonization. Brief moments of riffy goodness, but mostly a punky/alt. rock vibe going on.
Three Foolproof Ways to Buy the Farm: Short track that is built on a repeating, rhythmic (almost tribal) drum beat and a looped guitar melody. Vocals floating in and out of the mix and a layer of keyboards round it out. Sounds like it’s going to be another transitional track. Fat bass guitar chord in the background now… nothing comes from it. Song over.
The Greener Grass: This song is over ten-minutes long. It definitely has the potential to be epic. Soaring keyboard melody, folky synths and big riffs. Obligatory slow part to introduce the vocals. Very atmospheric with a lot of different sounds and vocal harmonies all blended together. Now it picks up pace and reminds me of the folky melodies that dominated the last album. It has slowed down again, and is very electronics-heavy. It seems that this will be the repetition for awhile, but it’s an awesome track so far… five minutes into it now and it’s going through some cool sections, but I’m not going to waste time describing each one. Just know that it is an excellent closing track.