Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fair - Disappearing World

Just published... Since submitting this I've come to realize that one of their many secret weapons is the drummer. I'm not a drummer and drums aren't what I first hear but this guy is all over the place! No, not showy all over the place but tastefully altering his drum patterns and adding just the right fills at just the right times. Joey Sanchez, my hat AND toupee are off to you!

Ten years ago a solo CD by some guy named Aaron Sprinkle joined my happy collection. I knew only that he was from one of those “Tooth & Nail” bands, gave the album a listen or two and then abandoned it as not worth my time to review.

Ten years ago I probably made a mistake.

This month I picked up the album Disappearing World by Sprinkle’s band Fair and zoo-wee Mama did they set the bar high for every other album released this year. It’s not that they do anything particularly different than all the other bands under the “indie” moniker but that they do it exceedingly well. Their specialty is finely crafted guitar and piano-driven indie songs that defy natural laws by packing so much goodness into such seemingly simple songs. Like any seasoned pro Fair makes these songs sound effortless, never getting bogged down in technical issues, always restraining themselves to play just the right note or sound or melody at just the right time.

Musically these songs could have come from any time in the past four decades, not being out of place on the albums of Todd Rundgren, Ben Folds, Joe Jackson or Death Cab For Cutie. The album begins quietly with sonic drips in the title song, soon blossoming into an endearing, cautiously cheerful song of chugging guitars, tasteful drums and iced with real strings. “Walking In My Sleep” has a delightful marching “I Am The Walrus” beat, mixing a pounding piano with dirty organs and a soaring, encouraging chorus.

This song also marks the first time the lyrics caught my ears. Some albums have great music and some have insightful lyrics but it’s rare to find one with both. With a truthful tongue in cheek Sprinkle sings “I never learned to fake it / So I never could fool you / With the honest truth.” “One Last Time” begins with the wry lyrics of “So the notion of a fiery end / Put me to sleep again,” while a breezy upbeat power pop beat leads the listener to revelation that “I could be sadder, I suppose,” a juxtaposition of dour ironic lyrics and cheery melodies that reminds me of the magic of They Might Be Giants in their first decade.

Lush orchestration marks the keyboard-driven “Take Some Risks” before leading to one of the most excruciatingly emotion-packed guitar solos I’ve heard in years, while the riveting rock of “The Escape Artist” brings in bits of Coldplay and Badfinger with a chorus of “You lost the human race / Another chip on your shoulder / Got a lot to get over.” “It’s Doubtful” packs a massive wallop of late 60s guitar-pop energy on top of lyrics like “If I’m happy / There’s a good chance I’m lying through my teeth,” taking us to the vulnerably honest “The Worst of Your Wear,” a quiet song of organs, acoustic guitar and the realization that “Life begins when the secrets end.”

This incredible album culminates with one of the best songs to have graced my ears in at least five years, “Anymore.” Starting off slowly, Sprinkle vulnerably sings over a haunting lone piano, “It’s almost like we’re here again / Right back where we started then / A shoddy alibi”, concluding “I don’t believe you anymore” as a fuzzy guitar adds it’s melodic underpinnings. Knowing what happens next only makes waiting through half a song of voice and piano all the more excruciating, yet it’s a most pleasurable waiting because eventually the piano grows a bit ragged, drums punch in and the entire band jumps into an urgent march as Sprinkle sings “I’ve got something to say / It’s serious” in a rocky variation of the previous verses. An orchestral feel builds as another guitar solo dazzles you with melodic self-control, the band builds in intensity, the guitar loses control, a crescendo and an abrupt ending that leaves you waving your arms in big backward circles to keep from falling over the edge of a cliff.

I’ll be the first to admit that much of the music I like is off the wall. Pretty much if I like something then the artist can kiss commercial success goodbye. But Disappearing World by Fair is an entirely different beast. It is artistic without pretension, disarmingly honest lyrically and packed with the kind of broadly appealing sophisticated/simple melodies that would make it rocket up the charts if only people could hear it. Not only have I heard what is sure to be one of the best albums of 2010, but I’ve “discovered” a tenured artist with a gold mine of past albums to delight my thankful ears, starting with the one gathering dust in my basement.

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