Review Summary: This is what listening to a bands "magnum opus" sounds like. Maybe
It’s hard to not qualify the greatness that is Arrows and Anchors
; nearly every thing done here can be so, so, so easily traced back to El Cielo
and Catch Without Arms
. Yeah, it’s heavier as a general rule, and while Darroh Sudderth may have more range than Gavin Hayes has ever had, his vocals still serve the same incredibly melodic and soothing function. This is a band that takes that entrancing alternative rock sound dredg ‘pioneered’ and adds in a myriad of new quirks and facets, and with that I can finally say: Arrows and Anchors
is the best album of the year so far. Period.
The magic of the album lies in how many different types of music Fair to Midland can jump between without it ever not distinctly seeming necessary. For every chugging alternative riff, for every piercing wale, for every majestic instrumental bridge, there is a banjo driven verse, a synth led monologue, a thrash chorus, or just an 11 minute progressive masterpiece. The album jumps through so many distinct moments phases that’s its impossible to distinguish them all: the key is they’re all so natural it never even seems like Fair to Midland are doing something strange or weird.
Which is good, because if that was the case it would take away from the amazingly well crafted songs. Fair to Midland’s unique songwriting approach isn’t of the basic mess with basic song structure to create variety range. Instead, the band give each song an individual identity; you’ll remember “Uh Oh” as the pop song with the low key verse and soaring chorus, “Amarillo Sleeps on my Pillow” as the ‘banjo-prog’ song drifting through folk and thrash with little distinction, “Rikki Tikki Tavi” as that song
, “Golden Parachutes” the one that the chorus blows you away every single goddamn time…I could go on for every song here, but it’s unnecessary: the album does that for me.
Throughout it, there is a strong sense of continuity. It’s not created by the lyrics, which while fairly impregnable, all have a dark, deep sense of meaning (except “Rikki Tikki Tavi”…they keep it humorous sometimes still). The sequencing of the record is impeccable, with Cliff Campbell’s impressive riffage and Brett Stowers and Jon Dicken’s rhythm section keeping the sound heavy and plodding throughout nearly the entire record. The real stars of the show are Sudderth and keyboardist Matt Langley; many of the albums brightest moments are when Langley’s keys are allowed to shine through with simple yet efflorescent melodies, while Sudderth’s vocals are a wonder to behold. Unlike many other vocalists whose talent and range causes them to sound ridiculous and forced at time (*cough* Daryl Palumbo *cough), Sudderth sounds natural throughout, switching from low growls to impossible highs, from a soft croon to a folk twang. There is a majesty to his performance that is rarely heard in a rock album, and it pushes Arrows and Anchors
over the top.
I hate to be effusive, but Arrows and Anchors
is a masterpiece. It takes the wonder of El Cielo
, mixes it with the heavy prog of Tool, and goes all [insert Mike Patton project here] in its weirdness. It draws from so many different sources and places, its tough to categorize this as simply an “alternative” album. This is the true definition of a prog album, challenging the idea of what a traditional rock album has to be. Let us just hope that in the future, they can come up with a better jape than “Rikki Tikki Tavi”…as lovely
as it might be to hear RIKKI TIKKI TAVI
one thousand times in one song.