Release date: July 11, 2011 (EU), July 12, 2011 (US)
Texas natives Fair to Midland return this summer with their second major label release and fourth album overall. Sonically Arrows & Anchors picks up where 2007’s Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True left off. Their sound is difficult to peg, falling somewhere between progressive metal and alternative or experimental rock, with some folk elements thrown in to keep the listener honest.
Vocalist Darroh Sudderth doesn’t even consider the record to be metal. “We are a band that makes albums and this is the best one that we’ve ever made. It might be the heaviest non-metal album you will hear this year.” The record is certainly heavy in its dark and crushing way, and easily the band’s opus to date.
A fair amount of growth exists on Arrows & Anchors, but with a comfortable sense of familiarity. Arguably less polished than its predecessor and more consistant with the band’s minor label releases, Arrows & Anchors once again challenges our preconceptions while reaffirming our faith.
The band got off to a brilliant starting tabbing producer Joe Barresi (Chevelle, Tool, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age) to steer the ship.
From the opening of the album with its Phantomesque and whimsical, “Heavens to Murgatroyd,” followed by the crotch-kicker “Whiskey & Ritalin”, the listener is hooked, line and anchor. After a cacophonous start the latter track whisks into an absolutely addictive riff, and drops the senses into freefall with its bridge.
The album’s first single, “Musical Chairs” begins with a stoic piano moment before building into spiraling soundscape, that as the chorus promises– “it makes you wonder…”. Jon Dicken’s bass rolls along like gulls dancing along the edge of the ocean lapping the shore.
“Uh-oh” is one of the more intense tracks on the record, melodic and driving with an epic bridge of hand claps, power drills and thrumming bass. Meanwhile “Amarillo Sleeps On My Pillow” plods along with a hickish folksy quality replete with banjos before colliding with a raucous wall of guitar and prog-bliss. The wailing guitar solo at 3:32 is eargasmic. Arguably the most unique and intriguing track on the album…if only because it strays the farthest from our expectations.
Ominous and eerie begins “A Loophole In Limbo” which turns into a melodic though darkly twisted prog-rock euphonia. “Short-Haired Tornado” swirls about the room full of vast harmonies, lush melody and and an aural homage to the days of (gulp) disco.
We’re hit square in the jaw with the groove-laden thrash meets Crosby, Stills and Nash, bedtime story gone awry, “Rikki Tikki Tavi”, which is completely infectious.
The album’s closer, “The Greener Grass”, is a 10-minute-plus epic of shifting auditory transcendence that transitions from one bridge to another. This is one of those tracks that give meaning to the term ‘epic’, and it brings the album full circle so you can start all over. With each listen you’ll find more to appreciate.
Track by track the album is an amazingly complex and dramatic event for the ears. Sudderth’s lyrics are divine to pick apart and ruminate on, while his vocals take on even broader range and tones with Arrows & Anchors. This collection of songs is his finest work vocally. Keyboardist Matt Langley may be the silent hero on this record as he fills the entire album with richness and visceral ambiance. Cliff Cambell’s guitar is top notch as is Brett Stowers’ stick work, and you may never hear a thicker, better produced bass than Barresi got from Dicken.
The journey through the album’s 15 tracks is sonically expansive while maintaining auditory continuity. I hear bits an pieces of everything from Dredg and Karnivool to Dream Theater, Yes, Rush, Gary Numan and other 80’s new waves undertones…
Fair To Midland have set a new bar for themselves with this 15 track opus. There are a couple of the smaller instrumental pieces that are arguably needless to the scope of the record, but their titles alone make them worthwhile. Overall everything fits together quite well, fluid and inspired, without gratuity. The album begs for repeated listening and is bound to be one of the year’s true gems.
Without hyperbole, Arrows & Anchors deserves your attention.