Review Summary: Arrows & Anchors isn't quite as instant as its predecessors, but it flourishes with repeated listening.
As far as first impressions go, it was hard to make out exactly which direction Fair to Midland were trying to take on Arrows & Anchors
. When I caught them live back in March, they played quite a few new tracks which came off as more intense than anything the band has done in a good ten years. But the Fair to Midland you hear on record is different from the raw, spastic creature that performs on stage. While live renditions of tracks like "Upgrade^Brigade," "April Fools and Eggman," and even "Walls of Jericho" were heavy rockers, in the studio they became more pristine and expressive (particularly on Fables From a Mayfly…
). It was a completely different experience that traded in some of the frantic elements of the band's live show with a more immersive sound.
In many respects, Arrows & Anchors
is a natural progression from Fables From a Mayfly
; it attempts to bridge these two themes together, and for the most part, it does so rather seamlessly. After a short interlude, "Whiskey & Ritalin" kicks the album off with deceptively thrashy riffing before transitioning into a more melodic piece reminiscent of material off Fables From a Mayfly
. Likewise, "Rikki Tikki Tavi" is a throwback to the band's alternative metal sound found on The Carbon Copy Silver Lining
, but still incorporates soothing, lullaby-eqsue choruses, which make for a nice contrast. And while that's about as overtly metallic as Arrows & Anchors
, it's still a louder record than one might expect. Still, the mellower flavour the band seemed to be trending towards on the previous record (as exemplified by the likes of "The Wife, the Kids, and the White Picket Fence" or "Say When") leave their mark on Arrows & Anchors
. "Short-Haired Tornado" and "A Loophole in Limbo" aren't as immediate as their heavy rock counterparts, but they're built on the kind of immersive soundscapes and cryptic lyrical work that flourish with repeated listening.
If the album sounds a little conservative, well… it is. But Fair to Midland do step outside their comfort zone on occasion. "Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow" and "The Greener Grass" are the more obvious standouts; the former opens with a unique folksy swagger, while the latter experiments with more longwinded, progressive elements. "The Greener Grass" utilizes the group's penchant for quiet/loud dynamics, particularly in its soaring choruses wherein vocalist Darroh Sudderth best displays his wide vocal range. Matt Langley enjoys a greater presence than in the past, such as in the dance-y, keyboard-heavy "Coppertank Island." Moments such as these aren't revolutionary, but they make for a nice change of pace that keeps Arrows & Anchors
from becoming redundant. This isn't apparent right away, as Arrows & Anchors
isn't quite as instant as its predecessors. However, its hidden nuances become more apparent with each listen, and it's this replay value that is Fair to Midland's greatest strength.