Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fair to Midland - Arrows & Anchors (Album Review)

Fair to Midland - Arrows & Anchors
Release date: July 12, 2011 (E1 Music)

Fair to Midland are an anomaly in the world of progressive rock. They make smart, complex and compelling music while somehow managing to avoid the inherent pretension that runs rampant throughout the prog rock genre. They're musically gifted, but they're not above letting their hair down and just rocking out when the urge strikes.

On their fourth album and E1 Music debut, Arrows & Anchors, the Texas-based quintet prove that bands need not abandon all pop sensibility in the pursuit of prog perfection. After a brief intro featuring church organ and a distorted mini-sermon delivered in a Southern drawl, Fair to Midland get right down to business with the hard rocking "Whiskey & Ritalin." What could easily have been a generic nü metal song in the hands of a lesser band gets a boost from Matt Langley's keyboard expertise and a melodic chorus that offsets the sludginess of the song's main riff.

Throughout Arrows & Anchors, Fair to Midland never shy away from experimentation, but still deliver plenty of good, old-fashioned, hook-laden rock 'n' roll. "Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow" prominently features banjo -- yes, banjo -- without ever devolving into country rock cliché, while "Golden Parachutes" provides straightforward arena rock bliss with its layered vocal harmonies and air guitar-worthy riffs.

The entire album is a showcase for singer Darroh Sudderth's formidable pipes. Sudderth's range and passionate delivery -- at times reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan -- have quickly earned him a spot among modern prog's best frontmen. On  songs like the lead single "Musical Chairs" and, most prominently, "Rikki Tikki Tavi," Sudderth effortlessly veers from soaring falsettos to guttural growls.

Sudderth's vocals are so transcendent that it'd be easy to overlook subpar songwriting, but fortunately, that's not necessary. Fair to Midland's sound is unique enough that it doesn't invite easy comparisons, although fans of Tool or Between the Buried and Me would probably find a lot to like. But one need not be a hardcore art rock geek to appreciate Fair to Midland. There are elements of Muse's arena prog in the band's sound, and it's not unfathomable that the increasingly important hipster demographic could latch onto the band.

In an era when Kings of Leon play sold-out amphitheaters with truly great acts like Built to Spill or Band of Horses as their openers, it's becoming increasingly difficult to predict a band's success. That said, Fair to Midland certainly have all the ingredients necessary to make the jump from niche status to bona fide rock stardom, and Arrows & Anchors could very well be the album that facilitates that transition.

1 comment:

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