[30 January 2014]
The Farewell Drifters have always been a meticulous band. Calculated and polished—with Zack Bevill’s vocals landing somewhere between Benjamin Gibbard and Brian Wilson, while the rest of the band carries enough heavy-handed bluegrass sensibilities to add a lush, structured charisma—the Nashville folkies have more in common with harmony-fueled sunshine pop of the ‘60s than the lo-fi dreaminess coming from the indie scene. But, with everything so carefully aligned, what they’ve lacked is edge. Intelligently, they let loose a little bit on Tomorrow Forever the follow-up to 2011’s well-received Echo Boom.
While the Farewell Drifters scatter moments of raw energy onto their fourth studio album, it never sounds contrived. The additions are subtle: unfiltered vocal sincerity, choruses that have drive without being dumbed down by overly anthemic lameness, and gutsy musicianship that’s as mature as it is whimsical. Their signature nostalgia is still there, but their perspectives seem more clear. It’s less wordy, but, on Tomorrow Forever, they find themselves saying a lot more.
“Our life is more than photos in boxes / I don’t want to be your lonely companion,” Bevill sings on the opening “Modern Age”, a catchy jangle-pop realization that looking forward is better than looking back. But then Tomorrow Forever becomes a wave of memories: the electric guitar driven “Bring ‘Em Back Around” longs for the good old days “when the world felt so right”, while the soft, melancholy “Brother” remembers the ups and downs of having a sibling.
It’s the foot-stomping title track that breathes new life into the album at the halfway point. With old-world picking, drums that have the backbone of a ‘70s rock band and harmonies that sounds entirely modern, “Tomorrow Forever” is a hard-driven, genre-bending anomaly, giving the kind of gritty punch that makes this album breathe a little more than their past work.
After slowing back down with the bleeding-heart piano ballad “Motions” and the shimmering, hooky “Tennessee Girl”, things gain steam again with “Neighborhoods Apart”, an evocative narrative that builds and falls. “Our time is like a broken window, always trying to glue it back / Piece by piece it holds together, while our youth slips through the cracks,” Bevill sings in the song’s chorus, which is the top tier of the layered and vivid, Arcade Fire-ish tale.
Tomorrow Forever finishes by bringing everything full circle with “Starting Over”, a track that, after an album of remembering and dwelling on the past, begs for a clean slate, just as the first song did, making for a cleverly arranged record. It’s candid and self-deprecating: “I feel like starting over, but I can’t see it ’til the end / I feel like starting over, but I can’t do it with my friends / Because they know me / And I’m jealous / And I’m crazy / Because they know me / And I’m a liar / And I’m lazy.”
The Farewell Drifters have an interesting dynamic: they can dig into the roots of Americana, bank on a strong songwriter, add rock riffs or dive into pop. Tomorrow Forever finds them utilizing all those weapons strategically. And, while they will probably always be technical and carefully organized, it’s nice to see them let go a little bit, pushing themselves in a few different directions.