It’s not been an easy road for Seattle band Fairgrove. After they dropped an extremely promising debut EP in early 2000, In Defense of the Inexperienced, very little was heard from the group except for an occasional live performance here and there. As one might expect, the usual rock ‘n’ roll interpersonal dilemmas were plaguing the band—first, original bassist Art Behrman left the band, and the band played with at least one other bassist before settling on current four-stringer Tom Falk. Then, drummer Chris Vanderbrooke moved from Seattle to San Francisco. While these sorts of lineup changes might not be so big a deal for a major label band with lots of money behind them, they can obviously prove quite crippling for an independent band like Fairgrove. Happily, the band persevered to bring us Good Luck in 2002.
On the occasion of their debut, I said gleefully of Fairgrove “sounds like the best emo band you’ve never heard on a head-on collision with mid-period Cure!” That five-song debut boasted two totally amazing songs (“Pig’s Blood Blue” and “You Were the Landscape”), and three other songs that were good, but didn’t quite scale similar heights. While there’s nothing on Good Luck that’s quite as immediately arresting as either of the best songs from their debut, it’s certainly a much more consistent record. Virtually every song comes across as a living, breathing entity; each part interacts with the others to create a coherent, tangible whole.
The most obvious thing about Fairgrove is singer/keyboardist Jay Harrison. Not only does he have a great voice, he sings with passion and conviction. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the band’s live performances, where Harrison works himself into a frenzy of facial contortions and writhing body, before regaining his composure just in time to redirect his attention to his keyboard and bust out a perfectly ‘80s new-wavey synth line. Although he is certainly more restrained on record than he is live, Harrison is still a presence to be reckoned with.
Good Luck begins with the languid, sprawling and curiously titled “Choral Accompaniment (for song 11)”. Harrison’s voice swoops and glides around lyrics like “Brand new plaything, but I’m not so shiny anymore / I’m a toy but some kids play with swords”. Meanwhile, Michael Graham’s cleanly picked guitar lines circle around him, before building to an intense, keyboard-saturated instrumental climax. When Fairgrove stretches out for longer songs, as they do on the leadoff track and “Calm Siege”, among others, they do so with admirable grace, always taking the patience of the listener into account and never overstaying their welcome.
Songs like “Gated Communities”, “Let’s Not Listen” and “Mono” betray a poppier side to the band, with Falk’s rolling basslines leading the way, and Graham’s twisty guitar lines interweaving with Harrison’s playful bursts of keyboard. Once again, Harrison’s passionate vocals are right up front in the mix, carrying the songs with his tales of interpersonal strife and discontent. Sometimes, as in the climax of “Let’s Not Listen”, the band works itself into a noisy lather that any fan of energetic, intelligent rock music would appreciate. However, while they certainly excel in that department, Fairgrove are more concerned with the luxurious, verdant spaces that appear in between these moments of gleeful rocking abandon.
// Notes from the Road
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