Thursday, October 21, 2010
Posted by Sasha
Sometimes amid the masses of bandwidth-choking MySpaces laden with bedroom demos and debut EPs uploaded for anyone to hear, you come across something special. At first, Fall Fox sounds like another guy with a guitar playing open chords into a four-track. And while that may technically be he case, it's the content of those tracks that sets Fall Fox apart in their first foray into digital distribution.
Fall Fox spins their folk-rock with a masterful voice, caught in both the strange and the innocent, teasing the line between songs of yore and songs of not-quite-yet. The debut EP builds a compact and fascinating world, an old diorama in a wooden box housing a scene initially familiar but where things don't play out quite as expected. There's a playfulness embodied in these tracks, something strongly reminiscent of folk tunes for children, but it doesn't give the EP the juvenile or saccharine sound that usually arises when songwriters try to inject their childhood into their work. Mixed with masterfully surreal lyrics, the youngness of these songs feels more like what childhood really was—strange, occasionally frightening, and full of wonder.
“And I'll be your analyst with the morningtime/and I'll be your alchemist when the evening glows,” begins “I Know Thee Well”, a song nostalgic for the antiquated from its title all the way through its string of animal metaphors. It's an upbeat charmer, a song of friendly affection expertly structured with some fantastic lyrical turns. One could easily imagine it on the soundtrack of the latest teen indie flick alongside Kimya Dawson et al, but let's hope it doesn't have to meet that fate quite yet.
The EP slows it down in its middle two tracks. "The River, Moon, and Sparrow" begins with a brief self-amused, Dylan-toned soliloquy before settling into a gentler tale of classic longing. On “Feelings” we hear more than guitar for the first time as Fall Fox underlines their vocals with synth trills and birdsong, creating a digital forest for us to float through. Too often digital intervention with a lo-fi acoustic song can sound icy, the synth harshly cutting in against guitar and vocals, but here the digital glitters perfectly alongside the organic. I couldn't tell you where Fall Fox found this loop. I can only imagine they went into the woods with their four-track and recorded the sunlight wafting through the leaves directly onto tape.
Closer “Raptors”, hilariously listed as both “Live in my bedroom” and as a bonus track (four out of four), starts off slow, surreal and entirely earnest. “When my hands turn to paws, I'll be coming home soon,” the lyrics go. The yearning for the primordial, the return to nature as an animal, becomes as palpable as any human desire, and perhaps more compelling in its strangeness. The song fakes an ending halfway through before picking up the tempo and finishing fast. Maybe the bonus track label wasn't intended as a joke, but the song rounds out the EP so well I find it difficult to believe it was tacked on as an afterthought. And if it was, Fall Fox should continue to trust in their afterthoughts.
While a softness and a sense of wonder are present in these songs, Fall Fox lacks the same gentleness as many of their indie-folk compatriot—and refreshingly so. There's a certain spunk to their spirit, something more akin to acoustic punks Ghost Mice than say, Iron & Wine. Some easy comparisons could be made to the Mountain Goats before they went clean, but John Darnielle took several albums to reach the level of structure in these songs, singing his own breed of meandering, journalistic reflection in his early days. Fall Fox dabbles less in literal introspection and more in the fables of their genre's original pioneers. They weave magnificent tales, pushing the old to the edge in a fresh take on the folk genre. I can't wait to see what more they come up with.
Fall Fox's debut may be downloaded in its entirety for free from their Bandcamp. And for $1.75, you can buy a download package that includes a hemp bracelet hand-made by the band (which they will mail to you in the real world). You can also catch Fall Fox at Subterranean tonight, October 21st at 8 p.m. Daniel Lutz, Hope & Therapy and Brother George will also play.