|Fair to Midland
Arrows and Anchors
July 11, 2011
Texas alternative prog-rock band Fair to Midland released their long awaited second album Arrows and Anchors just last month. After releasing two independent albums in 2001 and 2003, Fair to Midland caught the eye and ear of System of a Down front man Serj Tankian, who signed them to his own label, Serjical Strike. Since releasing their first label-backed album Fables from a Mayfly, Fair to Midland has gained acclaim for their high energy live shows, unique sound, and lead singer Darroh Sudderth's wide vocal range and eccentric stage presence. This band has great potential in their musical ability - not as expansive as, say, The Mars Volta - but they offer something slightly different than a lot of the now pre-packaged alt-metal sound that permeates regional rock stations.
For long time fans of Fair to Midland, their hype has been on a steady up swing with each passing year, release and tour. Maybe they haven't broken barriers and set trends the way some have expected, but make no mistake, no matter the level of popularity this bands reaches (for good or bad depending on your opinion and what type of popularity) they bring a wealth of unique sounds, mixing in hardcore pounding riffs that are perfectly complemented by Sudderth's amazing ability to synchronize his voice with the music. He clearly has amassed a spotlight of his own from his well thought out, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, lyrics, his vocal capabilities that range from guttural growls and throat singing to soft falsetto crooning, and his high energy, eccentric stage presence. With the completion of Arrows and Anchors, Fair to Midland is currently on the road with the Inked Magazine tour.
The album hits the ground running after an organ driven spoken word intro - the opening track "Whiskey and Ritalin" thrives on the guitarist Cliff Campbell's gunshot riff and Brett Stower's timing going in and out of the verses and chorus. Sudderth's voice shines in the pre-chorus with a soft whisper that's compacted by his eerie, almost spoken word lyrics during the verses. The first single of the album, "Musical Chairs," begins with a deep piano riff forewarning the onslaught to come. The rest of the band charges in, then stops cold for the verse, spotlighting Sudderth's soft croon and a sick progressive bass riff by Jon Dicken.
One of Fair to Midland's consistent traits in song structure is their propensity to lead in with hard charging riffs and almost a screamo type sound from Sudderth, then switching it up into light tip-toeing droplets of harmonies, led by Sudderth melodically ascending during the pre-chorus and ending up with a high pitched falsetto, while the band kicks back in for the full chorus. Arrows and Anchors delivers this trend on a consistent basis, yet it's not overly done to the point of being monotonously noticeable. It works well with their type of changing pace and sound style. The aforementioned songs "Whiskey and Ritalin" and "Musical Chairs" display this trait as well as later songs like "Golden Parachutes," which benefits from an awesome opening but kind of dwindles down in coolness for this reviewer.
Definite highlights are undeniable even on a first listen. "Uh Oh" is a beautifully mixed track of hard riffs and soft chords, with a haunting breakdown by Sudderth before a chorus that delivers chills when set to the right volume and atmosphere. "A Loophole in Limbo" has a creepy mix of electronics under Sudderth's vocals and a driving riff that makes this chorus and breakdown one of my favorites on the album.
"Amarillo Sleeps on my Pillow" might be the best track on the album for some listeners, with its folkish sound mixed with melodic riffs and Sudderth's expansive voice. This has all the makings of a classic track that should get some recognition; also, I hear it is the second single. One track that's fast becoming a fan favorite is "Rikki Tikki Tavi." The title and some of the lyrics are taken from an old Rudyard Kipling children's story, and the song retains the serious tone crafted by this author of The Jungle Book.
The song has a whirlpooling, circus-esque feel to it. Sudderth begins with a soft croon: "Listen to me...Listen to me," then charges into a hard scream followed by lyrics sung in a threatening guttural tone. At first I was unsure about the song, but after a couple of listens, I'm on board. If I could compare it to anything it would be Tool's song "Hooker with a Penis" off of Ænima. It's one of those completely pissed off songs that carries more weight with its middle harmonics and soft parts, but dives back into the hardcore portion. It also employs references to the Wizard of Oz, giving it even more of a dark circus feel.
I found myself listening to a lot of their last album, Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True. I realized after a while that, for as much as I listened to songs from Fables... I only listened to four songs at most. I found I really didn't like some of the softer portions of the album and for being hyped as a hard edge band with high energy, I expected more punch. This time around I was consciously listening for the musical direction and the type of feeling that dominates Arrows and Anchors. With a harder and darker edge, this album is a positive progression from Fables of a Mayfly.
While there are still sections and songs that seem repetitive or lack the luster this band is capable of when they are on, one can see why they have been labeled with such potential and hype. They have been around for a while but only have two major releases on a record label. Arrows and Anchors is a very good album and is the closest they have come to living up to the expectations placed upon their Texan shoulders. Here is one listener hoping they continue to build and expand their sound for the future. If you're on the fence about the band, do yourself a favor and see them live; it will definitely sway you in their favor.
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Reviewer Bio - Tim Rosini is part of the editorial team at Onlinerock team. Having a background in English literature with a concentration in creative writing, Tim found himself working for various magazines and websites after moving out to the west coast last summer. Having the ability to adapt his focus from business writing to creative fiction he has found a great place to exercise his passion for music on the onlinerock website.