Burnt Sienna Wonderland
The Fearless Freep. A strange little number out from the other side of the county. Robert John Stephens “& friends” are the ones responsible for this one. Their press kit thought it was being clever, asking me if I liked pop songs. They thought it might be amusing to bend my ear about how Stephens (as the Freep) previously had some 40,000 downloads thanks to the last album, No Less Sordid. Thought it might be good to tell me about how hard the musician’s world is, that money is but some imaginary substance most days. Hell, you didn’t have to tell me that.
I dig The Fearless Freep.
For once, the silly, over-dramatized words of the little bits of paper that come with all these discs was absolutely right. Mr. Stephens has certainly concocted a pop album, that while might be the farthest thing away from people’s first notion of what “pop” is, nevertheless is everything pop is. Got that? I hope so. What I mean is that there are plenty of nice melodies, hooks, vocal bits, and guitar parts here to move you, to groove you, to make you play and fall is how you sleep over and over again.
But it’s not going to hit you like a hammer.
No, The Freeless Freep are not about blind siding you with larger than life sounds that would sell millions upon millions of CDs and Coke bottles. And while the notion of them doing just that wouldn’t be so bad, the fact that it doesn’t sell pop culture in a glass means that the songs have a longevity that not even The Muffs could imagine. (And where are they now, anyway? See!) We’re talking about 10 songs here, tucked inside a strangely textured, burnt sienna sleeve (kind of looks like mud, or an adobe hut), that never fails to catch fire.
“And why is this?” you may arsk.
“Because,” as the man so once elegantly said. And that man is me. It won’t take you long to look. Just put on the first song, “It’s All Good” and listen to Stephens drag out the Freep slowly, coaxing you along. Dig how the bass drum is mixed a little heavier than the rest of the drums, so that if you indeed have a subwoofer, you can hear the backbeat like a steady pulse. It’s an interesting effect. “And we staple all the corners down / Board up all the holes / It’s just the shadows and the noises now / Burned in a fiery glow / As we smoke ‘em out one by one / We snuff ‘em out one by one / And it’s . . . all good” sings Stephens as the song forms a monumental melodic sigh that suckers you in. Oh, it’s good all right. Very good.
It’s been noted that Stephens probably can’t escape comparisons to bands like Dinosaur Jr. I will admit that he does have a kind of J Mascis-ish way of singing and doing the slow song thing, but otherwise there’s not much to compare. And I for one think that’s good, as Mascis hasn’t excited me over an entire album since his major label debut Green Mind 10 or so years ago. I’d sincerely like to see him come up with something as sublimely catchy as Stephens’ “Corrections” here with its steel guitar lines and rattle trap drum fills.
There’s also the chunky “It’s All Soup” (needless to say, no pun intended) that features Stephens rocking out in his own way. It’s a spacious sound, lots of gap between the guitars, the drums, and the vocals, but it does rock. You’ve not heard anything like this, I guarantee. And dig the two chord grumble of “Tonight, We’re Stepping Out of Bounds Tonight”, that sounds like as if it might have drawn inspiration from The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs” or “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. Exquisite.
Consider and fall is how you sleep an indie rock milestone of low light inventiveness and slow burn creativity. Robert Stephens takes his time to present the songs here, and the listener should definitely allow them to play out and sink in. The Fearless Freep may not be about the instant payoff, but they certainly know how to write excellent songs with that extra something that keep one listening. So yeah, I can believe this band had 40,000 downloads of MP3s at one time.
But now, it’s really up to you to hear and believe it as well.