Review Summary: Beautiful, original and crushing, all at the same time. Arrows and Anchors is one of the best releases to come out of 2011.
Smart, unique alternative rock is becoming somewhat of a rarity in today’s music industry. Only a handful of bands such as Manchester Orchestra, Karnivool and Thrice are prepared to branch out and try something different and still retain an inherent accessibility about them. Given the ever increasing saturation of music worldwide, it often takes something quite special to break out of the rut and create something truly interesting and captivating. What Texan quintet Fair to Midland have achieved with their fourth album Arrows and Anchors, however, is just that.
Continuing on from where their breakthrough album Fables From a Mayfly left off, Fair To Midland have put together an outstanding album of eclectic rock music, albeit in a heavier fashion this time around. Arrows and Anchors is the natural progression from Fables… in that it improves the band’s overall sound while still retaining what made its predecessor such an excellent release. Tracks such as the utterly magical ‘Golden Parachutes’ and ‘Short Haired Tornado’ are perfect examples of this. In fact, the chorus of ‘Golden Parachutes’ is arguably one of the best rock choruses this year, let alone on the album. Praise must be given to vocalist Darroh Sudderth who possesses one of the best voices in rock music today, as displayed in the aforementioned songs.
Elsewhere, Arrows and Anchors is not without the experimentation that Fair To Midland is known for. As with their previous releases, despite the bands obvious strengths instrumentally, it is their off kilter song writing that is the main drawcard here. Even on the more straightforward songs such as ‘Golden Parachutes’ and ‘Uh-Oh’ the quintet manage to draw on an array of influences and retain their accessibility with ease. However, it is when Fair To Midland break free from their normal song structure that the band truly shines. The schizophrenic ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi’ is a thrash/folk/metal/ambient masterpiece and is easily the heaviest song on the record. In fact, it is the perfect advertisement for Fair To Midland’s song writing talent – joining polar opposite influences together into the same song. Similarly, the brilliant ‘Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow’ sees the band introduce bluegrass elements (complete with banjos and washboards) into their more traditional hard rock sound, complete with a pretty nifty solo from guitarist Cliff Campbell. While the aforementioned tracks are a little different to what Fair To Midland have put to record before, they succeed because they’re still catchy and accessible.
Aside from the album being noticeably heavier, it is also worth noting that keyboardist Matt Langley has a greater role on Arrows and Anchors. Tracks such as ‘Musical Chairs’ and 10 minute closer ‘The Greener Grass’ are examples of this, with Langley’s keys being one of the driving forces of the songs. ‘The Greener Grass’ is again something new for the quintet, easily being the longest song they’ve ever written and featuring one of the more beautiful build ups on the album. Meanwhile, the more atmospheric ‘A Loophole In Limbo’ is easily one of the best songs of the year, again seeing a prominent use of keys.
After four years of waiting, Arrows and Anchors most definitely lives up to the lofty expectations of it. Fair to Midland’s heavier sound and vastly improved instrumentation have given rise to one of the more original rock records in recent times. In fact, Arrows and Anchors will undoubtedly be one of the albums of the year; such is the quality and originality of the song writing. Arrows and Anchors is a stunning return from one of America’s most important and original modern rock bands.