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Fairmont’s tweaks to their indie-rock sound pay off

February 27, 2015

fairmont812

Fairmont has gone through a variety of permutations over the past decade: melodic indie-rock, theatrical pop-rock, folky indie-pop, and bitter rock’n’roll. With 8 1/2, they’ve returned to their roots as a melodic indie-rock band with a cynical cast to the lyrics. But when you come home after a decade, things are different no matter what. In Fairmont’s case, the lessons of seven and a half previous albums (hence the name) have honed their songwriting skills and arrangement aesthetics.

Where Fairmont was once a three-piece that got by on exactly three instruments, they’ve expanded comfortably into their current quartet lineup with a variety of support instruments. Female vocals, marimba, keys, synths, and other miscellaneous sounds fill out the songs here, giving songs like “Love & War,” “Don’t Wait Up,” and “The Connection” unique vibes. The first of those three benefits from the interplay of all those extra sounds in an upbeat indie-rock tune with a mid-song slow section (familiar territory for Fairmont).

“Don’t Wait Up” is a moodier tune that captures the nuance that Fairmont has earned over a decade of songwriting. Neil Sabatino’s voice, usually brash and nasal in Violent Femmes style, is tuned to sweeter sounds here. The female background vocals and glockenspiel melody temper some of the brittle edges on Fairmont’s sound, and the tune becomes a highlight.

Sabatino nuancing his vocals isn’t the only new element in the sung category: “The Connection” is the first Fairmont song ever to feature female lead vocals, making it a standout. The rainy-day vibes of “Gone” are largely sold by the descending keys, fitting drums, and guest vocals from IC faves The Maravines.

The tweaks that Fairmont made on 8 1/2 result in a more comfortable, relaxed version of the band. Sure, they’ve still got jittery, anxious energy (“Love & War”), but it’s set in the service of different goals here. If you’re into melodic indie-rock with strong melodies and textured arrangements, you’ll be into 8 1/2. The album drops on 3/3.

*Neil Sabatino of Fairmont owns Mint 400 Records, which is the record label of The Duke of Norfolk, whom I manage.

Fairmont: Now with more marimba!

January 22, 2014

Fairmont has been a part of Independent Clauses for almost as long as it’s been alive. Over those almost 10 years I’ve seen Fairmont transition from an acoustic-fronted indie-rock band to a theatrical power-pop band and back. In short, it’s been REM to My Chemical Romance to a Violent Femmes/Shins hybrid. That last one spot is where Fairmont currently sits with Live & Acoustic from the Forest of Chaos.

Leaning heavily on acoustic guitar, marimba, and male/female duo vocals, the New Jersey band remakes some of its tunes from the last few years in a chill, stripped-down style. They never lose the friction-energy that powers Neil Sabatino’s songs, but they do smooth out some of the rough edges that the tunes can get from a gritty guitar line or pounding drum kit. “Black Heart Burns” is a great example of their sound on this release, as Sabatino and co. create a sparse but engaged backdrop for the vocal duet to play over. The song is a little morose (re: title), but it never comes off as depressing or overtly navelgazing.

That trend continues throughout: the tunes are surprisingly light and sprightly for their heavy content. “Elephant” has a carnivalesque wonder to it; “King and Queen” is an upbeat song in a major key that will have you tapping your foot and loving the fact that this acoustic album includes marimba. “I Am the Mountain,” a favorite of mine, is just as catchy as in its electric form.

If you’re into acoustic-fronted indie-rock/indie-pop (and who isn’t, these days?), Fairmont’s in-studio live set (no applause, which made me breathe a sigh of relief) is a great way to spend 25ish minutes. Live & Acoustic from the Forest of Chaos drops 1/28.

Fairmont's The Grand and the Grandiose lives up to the billing

April 4, 2013

Fairmont has been writing hook-laden power-pop/indie-pop with a bitter twist for more than a decade, and The Grand and the Grandiose is the band’s most assured work yet. Grand strips down the complex arrangements that have characterized recent Fairmont releases to a guitar/bass/drums trio with occasional contributions from piano and melodic percussion. The tunes rely heavily on the guitar-based songwriting for the main thrust of the album, especially in mood-setting instrumental opener “The Dead Leaves of Autumn.” Fairmont has been writing songs in this genre for so long that this narrow focus is a benefit instead of a hindrance: the band knows what it’s doing, and that expertise shows in these ten never-boring tunes.

The streamlined sonic palette puts the focus squarely on Neil Sabatino’s confident, excellent vocal melodies. The memorable refrain of “Misery,” the intimate performance of “The Sun Shines Only for Me,” and the “ba ba ba” background vocals of ‘Black Heart” are highlights in these tunes that don’t mince words or sounds. If you’re a fan of thoughtful power-pop/indie-pop from veterans who have the chops to make you remember a song long after it’s gone, The Grand and the Grandiose is going to excite you.

Fairmont releases a remarkably effective Retrospective

October 24, 2011

Retrospectives and “Greatest Hits” albums are an iffy proposition. Record labels have proven to not be very effective at gauging which songs are worthy, while bands themselves haven’t done much better. Thankfully, Neil Sabatino (he who is Fairmont, along with whoever else is in the room at the time) understands what makes his band excellent.

Sabatino’s recognition that great vocal lines, hooky guitar riffs and concise songwriting are Fairmont’s strong suit makes Retrospective easily the best collection of Fairmont tunes yet. And that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen.

The new “White Light” kicks off the set, and its Brit-rock undertones (Oasis!) are almost as surprising as the continuing shift back toward acoustic-led songs. The Meadow at Dusk EP featured acoustic guitars in an upbeat manner, but I can’t think of an album employing them to this level of seriousness or import since 2003’s Anomie. This, to me, is less of a throwback and more of a welcome home party: Anomie is the release that caused my much younger self to gush, “The members of Fairmont are on their way to becoming indie rock gods in the eyes of the public. I know they’re already immortalized in my mind.”

Regardless of this statement’s truth (I have reviewed every Fairmont release since Anomie favorably, if not exactly in as glowing terms), my early exuberance missed a fundamental element of Fairmont’s ethos: Sabatino and co. is more like the Mountain Goats than Death Cab for Cutie. Thoughtful songs with bitter-yet-clever lyrics dominate the proceedings here, as the songs primarily stick in the guitar-rock area of the spectrum. These songs, while occasionally going for the big pop hook, most often stay in the sleek, slick, low-to-the-ground mode.

However, Fairmont takes a swing at this theory by putting “Being & Nothingness” as the second track of the album and the first real “retrospective” track. Transcendence had a demonstrably theatrical bent, and this was best embodied in the 5:29 of “Being & Nothingness.” There are sleigh bells, choirs, lots of turns in the songwriting and a huge build-up to the end. The song feels far more personal than other Fairmont tunes, as the embattled bitterness is dropped for a more wounded anger over the loss of naivete. I have no idea whether it has any more connection to Sabatino than the violent escapist fantasy “At the End of the Movie,” or if the appropriated genre lends more “connection” to the tune, but for whatever reason it’s most immediately jaw-dropping song Fairmont has penned.

It’s little like the rest of the tunes on the album, but it’s the best one, and Fairmont acknowledges that. That’s gutsy and admirable, as evidence of how thoughtfully constructed this retrospective is.

The rest of the 50 minutes unfolds in a very enjoyable manner. Fairmont has gone through many iterations in the past ten years, and many of them are well-represented here. The Meadow at Dusk EP contributes two tunes that bring a levity to the album via calmer songs and the contributions of a great female vocalist counterpointing Sabatino. The cover of “Melt With You” (which IC featured on its 7th birthday EP!) is downright chipper. The rockers “Sometimes I’m Bitter,” “The Monster You’ve Become” and “Suspicion Haunts the Guilty Mind” are spread neatly throughout the album as anchors.

Retrospectives and greatest hits should serve to give people an intro to a band, and Fairmont‘s Retrospective: 2001-2011 will do exactly that for the uninitiated. For longtime fans, it accomplishes the rare feat in accumulating a great deal of the songs I actually want to hear from Fairmont. (I would have included “Happiness is a Million Miles Away,” but if I only have one quibble, that’s impressive.) If you’re into guitar-rock, thoughtful lyrics, Jean-Paul Sartre references or uniquely catchy songs, you’ll want to check this release.

Fairmont picks up a girl and an acoustic guitar, making good use of both.

August 29, 2009

The most striking thing about Fairmont‘s The Meadow at Dusk EP is the relative calm it espouses. While Fairmont has never been the speediest of the indie-rock set tempo-wise, they’re anything but calm when it comes to their lyrical content. “Kicking and screaming, doused with bits of resigned bitterness” is a more apt description of the words that accompany Fairmont’s guitar-heavy indie-rock/pop.

With that calm comes a shift in instrumentation (or, perhaps, the shift in instrumentation causes the calm). Previous albums featured tracks that built towards overflowing endings crammed full of vocal tracks, electric guitar swells and pounding rhythm sections. There’s still some of that happening on Meadow.  The crashing guitars and staccato rhythms of “From High Above the City”  sound musically like a transplant from their last effort Transcendence.

The bridge, however, puts Fairmont’s direction in much greater focus, musically and lyrically. A bass riff on a keyboard takes over with a complicated riff, and an electronic beat keeps time for it. It flows seamlessly back into crashing electric guitars, but the point is made musically. The dual vocals feature a girl, a first for Fairmont. The lyrics portray a sort of normalcy that is uncharacteristic of Fairmont’s discography but in line with Meadow‘s themes: “This could be heaven, this could be hell; this is life, this is how it’s going.”

With that new vocalist, addition of keyboard, and calmer outlook on life, the whole feel of Fairmont is slightly different. Those additions lead naturally to more acoustic guitar presence in their music, something that hasn’t been a major, effective part of Fairmont’s sound since 2003’s Anomie. “The King and Queen” is a folk-rock song supported by a sweet acoustic guitar riff, “The Embalmer” is a straight-up folk lullaby (albeit one with a chorus that says “Song for the suffering, song for the dead;” can’t stray too far from their roots), and “My One and Only One” is (get this) a love song. Yes, it does have “Sometimes you wear me out” as its main line, but its contrasted by “When times were tough, you were there” and the almost-weird-to-hear-coming-out-of-Neil-Sabatino’s-mouth “You are my one and only one.”

The tracks that make best use of the new female vocalist and feature the acoustic aesthetic are the more successful tracks on this album. “I am the Mountain” is the best meld of old and new, but it doesn’t hold a candle to “The King and Queen” and “The Embalmer.”

If you’re a fan of girl/guy interplay, you should add Fairmont to your library. You haven’t had a reason to before this, but Meadow at Dusk EP establishes new sounds and new angles to Fairmont’s sound that should intrigue you. It features some of their most accomplished and entertaining songwriting, and that’s saying something: I own half a dozen Fairmont releases. The tracks have an immediate glow and yet still grow in enjoyment as you hear them more; that’s something most bands wish they could accomplish. Highly recommended for fans of the Hold Steady, M. Ward, and/or Peter, Bjorn and John.

Fairmont Transcends their previous work.

January 9, 2009

I’ve followed Fairmont through three full-length albums and an EP. It’s not a surprise to me that Transcendence, the fourth full-length by Neil Sabatino and Co. that I’ve had the privilege of  reviewing, improves on their last work musically. This is a trend they have continued (with only the occasional slip-up) since the beginning of their time as a band. The startling thing about Transcendence is the fact that everything else about the album is amazing as well.

Not to knock on Fairmont’s previous work (you will find my glowing reviews of their previous work if you search), but it always fell just short of that thing that kept it playing in my CD player. Maybe the lyrics were horribly morose.  The song order was sketchy. Sometimes the songs had great parts and regrettable parts mashed next to each other.  Transcendence fixes all these problems and creates a total album.

Yes, Transcendence should be played front to back each time, because the song order matters. The album has an ebb and flow that would be totally lost in a pick-and-choose listening. The songs of Transcendence seem autobiographical in the best sense: the album feels chronological, as if I were reading a book about Neil Sabatino. This, again, is due to the song order, which places a discussion of his childhood spent in an apocalyptic commune first. The bizarre conduct of the cult sets the stage for the skepticism and existentialism that characterize the rest of the album. It’s easy to draw connections in all of the other songs from points within the first song (the easiest being a reprise of the bridge in the last song, with more obscure references and touchpoints throughout). In short, the lyrics and song order suck me into a world that I inhabit for forty minutes. Seeing as Sabatino’s existentialism is completely counter to my Christian worldview, my total immersement in the ideas and themes of the album while I’m hearing it is a compliment to the descriptive and impassioned quality of the lyrics.

But it’s not just the lyrics that make tunes like “Everyone Hates a Critic” and “Luck Will Change” into the outstanding pieces of music they are. Highlight “Everyone Hates a Critic” has an incredibly interesting rhythmic pattern and a neat chord progression. It’s hard to not like it. “Luck Will Change,” while being the bleakest on the album, lyrically, is pretty upbeat and fun. Both songs feature piano/synths, which is a new thing for Fairmont, and it’s a very good thing.

In terms of rocking, “Omaha” wins. It has a raucous riff, a sinister mood, and a vaguely surf-rock mood. I sing it when it comes up on the album. “Melt Your Heart” is also pretty punked-out for being a love song.

“Melt Your Heart” ends with the bridge from the first song “Being and Nothingness,” as  the male and female vocalists declare their love for each other over the repeated group-sing of “aimless!” It’s the transcendence that Fairmont named the album after; love will overcome the existential angst of being. Whether or not that’s what you think, you will enjoy this pop/rock album; it’s expertly crafted and precisely written. Easily the best Fairmont has produced.

Fairmont: Okay with Not Making It

August 1, 2007

fairmontartfairmontpicFairmont: Okay with Not Making It

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Neil Sabatino has been there and back again. He’s shared the stage with punk rock legends, pop-punk icons and emo heartthrobs. He’s played Warped Tour back when not too many people could say they have, and he’s even been in a band with My Chemical Romance’s guitarist Frank Iero.

Sabatino’s also seen the dark side of the industry. He’s fought with record labels and band mates alike. But all this is just fuel for the creative blast furnace Sabatino uses to write his music in the band Fairmont.

Unlike other bands Sabatino sees burning themselves out by making getting signed to a major indie label their only goal, he and his band mates are in it all for the long haul.

This long haul first began for Sabatino when he joined his first band in 1993.

“I did the typical first band that goes nowhere,” he said. Called Little Green Men, it was Sabatino’s first chance at writing songs. The band experimented with all kinds of music from a Radiohead sound to ska punk, but a lack of dedication from the singer caused Sabatino and the band’s drummer to move on to Stick Figure Suicide.

Having joined the band in 1997, things began to move for Sabatino. In 1999, Stick Figure Suicide won a battle of the bands contest that allowed them to play the local stage of Warped Tour. This was in Warped Tour’s early years when there were fewer stages and few bands got the chance to play. To play the New Jersey local stage meant a band was going places. Yet he wasn’t ever happy playing punk music, so he eventually left Stick Figure Suicide for the band Pencey Prep. It was in Pencey Prep that Sabatino played with Frank Iero and future Fairmont bassist John McGuire.

“That was my first experience being on a more indie record label,” he said about the band’s record label, Eyeball Records.

Despite the great success the band had, internal disputes climaxed on a three-week tour and meant the end of Sabatino’s stint with Pencey Prep.

Although they played a sold-out show with Thursday the first night, an unreliable van began the tour on the wrong foot.

“It broke down before we even left on tour,” he said. The van had a leak in the gas tank and could only be filled up three-quarters of the way.

As the band reached Minnesota, long drives added more tension. There, the van completely died and it cost $660 to get it out of the shop. Taking refuge with Sabatino’s in-laws in the town of Fairmont, the band booked a last minute gig.

“It [was”> a shitty Monday night bar show,” Sabatino said. Upset about having to play to only a few people, some members of the band refused to play. The whole episode left a bitter taste in Sabatino’s mouth and caused fighting once the band got back to New Jersey. Sabatino finally quit.

Angered by his former band mates and other disagreements with Eyeball Records, Sabatino began writing songs about what he was going through.

“That was the fire I needed,” he said.

One week after being kicked out of Pencey Prep, he had written eight songs for a demo.

“I called my friend with a studio and said I needed to record this by the end of the week,” he said.

Thus, Fairmont was created.

“We went through a whole bunch of lineups in the beginning,” he said.

Sometimes, friends would play in the band, but they couldn’t do it full time. Other guys would fill in from The Multi-Purpose Solution and American Degenerate. If Fairmont was going on the road, the first person to try out for a spot would end up in the band. Every couple of months, Fairmont had a new lineup.

The Fairmont of today is one of maturity and a steadier lineup.

“We all love just playing music,” Sabatino said. “There’s no drama in the band.”

They have now had the same drummer, Andy Applegate, for the past three years. According to Sabatino, Applegate really rose to the occasion of Fairmont’s diverse sound.

“I’m lucky I found him,” Sabatino said. “We can pretty much knock out a brand new song in like an hour.”

As a whole, the band has been working on improving their sound. On top of Applegate tightening up his drumming and McGuire taking bass lessons from a friend, Sabatino has been taking vocal lessons. He hopes people will notice the band is paying greater attention to the details.

“This is how I always pictured the band would sound,” he said.

The best way to describe Fairmont’s sound is diverse. From acoustic to electric, Sabatino attributes the band’s diverse sound to the wide variety of music he listens to, which ranges from Bob Dylan to jazz to Aqueduct.

“I think I’ve always been just a gigantic fan of all different kinds of music,” Sabitno said.

Because the band’s sound doesn’t match what he calls “an already saturated music scene” in the New York/New Jersey area, Fairmont doesn’t get a lot of attention there.

“Any time you do anything original, you’re going to suffer it,” he said, but he thinks the pain and anxiety of being overlooked by major record labels helps him write better songs.

After the band’s first record came out, Sabatino sent copies to everybody he could think of. Everybody who got a copy really liked it, especially if they knew about the Pencey Prep situation.

“I was pretty proud of it,” he said. “Especially to know that you did it all yourself.”

He still looks back and thinks those were good songs.

Today, Sabatino teaches technology and helps with special education children. The job has so many sick days and school holidays that it works perfect along side the band. The money he earns allows Fairmont to put out the records they want.

“When you go with a small label, they only have so much money,” he said.

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Fairmont’s latest album, Wait and Hope will be released along side a tour in August. Sabatino said this album would be more upbeat than previous ones because he was listening to classic punk when he was writing it. He nicknamed it a record of pop revenge anthems.

“We’re already not banking on this release making us,” Sabatino said, and added that he thinks it will take more records and more tours before that will happen.

In the mean time, Fairmont is planning to branch out to other parts of the country. They hope to play shows in Portland and Seattle, as well as Philadelphia.

“We’ve done pretty good in Chicago and Minneapolis,” he said.

Despite having over a decade of experience under his belt and an industry resume that could put most people to shame, Sabatino and his band mates are happy where they are.

“I’ve accepted the fact that I might go my entire career without getting the respect I feel I deserve,” he said, and added that when all is said and done, he just hopes Fairmont was important somewhere in the history of music.

-CJ Macklin

charles.j.macklin-1@ou.edu

Fairmont-Wait and Hope

January 1, 2007

Band Name: Fairmont

Album Name: Wait and Hope

Best Element: Fantastic Songwriting

Genre: Indie-rock

Website: http://www.fairmontmusic.com

Label Name: Go For Broke Records

Band E-mail: fairmontmusic@yahoo.com

I take Fairmont for granted. I’ve gotten so used to Fairmont putting out a really good album every year or so that I almost forget to stop and praise the album like I should. To me, Fairmont is one of those bands that even if you don’t listen to them for a while, they’re still there as one of your favorite bands. They transcend the curse of “out of sight, out of mind,” and that’s incredible when you take into account how many bands I hear every year.

Take the title track of their latest album, for example. “Wait and Hope” starts out with a slick piano/bass riff accented by simple drums and Neil Sabatino’s wonderfully unique vocals. It graduates into a stomping diatribe before getting quieter into the infectious centerpiece of the song that’s delivered not with an exuberant explosion, but a pensive, wry smile. It’s completely unexpected. They throw in a solo section next, where a harmonica is featured in addition to guitar. It’s the sort of song that is so completely comfortable and accessible that it seems like you’ve been listening to it forever.

Part of this songwriting prowess comes from the fact that Neil Sabatino has been writing bitter, guitar-minded indie-rock like this for a long, long time. As the central figure in Fairmont, he shines throughout as lead vocalist and primary songwriter. From the stomping riff in “Suspicion Haunts the Guilty Mind” to the menacing “Tuesday Night Danbury” to the wonderfully charming and perky closer “Andy Goldfish Dreams of the Ocean”, Neil Sabatino changes up the mood with ease throughout, giving the album the amount of twists and turns it needs to keep a listener’s attention for 12 songs. One thing stays the same throughout, though: they all demand to be sung along to. And it’s not the type of sing-along quality where the whole song is an excuse to have a monster chorus (although “Today I Was Thinking About You” almost commits that sin)– it’s the type of sing-along where every single part of the song is just so well done that you want to hum everything. I memorize these types of songs very, very quickly, and so will you.

Sabatino, for all of his songwriting variety, doesn’t change up the mood of the lyrics. He prefers instead to keep a generally sneering and bitter mentality with the occasional shot of guarded optimism to temper the otherwise bleak landscape. Titles like “Happiness is a Million Miles Away,” “Lack of Luster” and “Since Day One I’ve Been Plotting Your Death” prove the former, while “Today I Was Thinking of You” proves the latter.

But it’s not all Sabatino – the duo of Hambone and Andy on bass and drums provide a very important and solid backdrop for Sabatino’s guitar and vocals. Hambone’s bass antics are especially important on the title track, while crashing bass and drums make “Fredo” the impressive song it is.

Fairmont is the cream of the crop when it comes to guitar-based indie-rock, and they prove it with Wait and Hope, which is guitar rock done so impeccably that you can’t help but love it. If you like literate, intelligent indie-rock with a great attention to detail and a liberal dose of attitude, Fairmont will be in your corner. If you don’t, well, Fairmont can get you interested in that sort of thing.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses@hotmail.com

Fairmont-The Subtle Art of Making Enemies EP

July 1, 2006

Band Name: Fairmont
Album Name: The Subtle Art of Making Enemies EP
Best Element: The gorgeous flute/piano/cello finale
Genre: Indie Rock
Website: www.fairmontmusic.com
Label Name: Renfield Records, Reinforcement Records.
Band E-mail: farimontmusic@yahoo.com

It’s amazing to watch as a band rises up and creates its own persona, all the while maintaining the advancement of its musical creativity. Fairmont has, without argument, done just that. As I looked through their discography the first word that came to mind was “bitter.” With songs entitled “Wish You Were Dead”, “It’s Not Rain, God is Spitting On Us”, “How Summer Tour Made Me An Atheist”, and my personal favorite, “Sometimes I’m Bitter”, it’s hard not to think that you may just be listening to a future My Chemical Romance album. The feeling is further cemented if you read their biography and happen to notice the quote by lead singer Neil Sabatino which confidently sates that their “dream is to make record after record and if one kid out there can relate to our tales of bitterness then our job is done.” However, Fairmont’s embittered persona, though alive and well, seems to be evolving. With their fourth EP, The Subtle Art of Making Enemies, Fairmont shows that they have, for the time being at least, not resurrected the morose monster that has become such a defining part of their past releases.

Prior to listening to the EP I casually threw Fairmont into the classification with other generic indie rock acts. This was, however, a large mistake and a reaction which I now regret having. The first track on the EP, “Happiness is a Million Miles Away”, is the darkest and gives heed to that morose monster, but doesn’t release it. The darker sound is a perfect compliment to Sabatino’s slightly nasal yet gratifying voice. “Lack of Luster” is extremely catchy and fun even if “the sun don’t shine” and “nothing’s getting better”. The final track “Rebuilding Home” shows Fairmont in all the glory that they deserve. Suddenly a cello starts moving, a piano begins a beautiful accompaniment, and as the EP closes a flute chimes in with a delicate melody. “Rebuilding Home” is undoubtedly the cherry on top of the sundae.

It’s safe to say that Fairmont is ahead of the curve in the indie rock scene, which is not surprising considering that the band evolved out of Pencey Prep, who played shows with The Strokes, Nada Surf, and Thursday. If this EP is evidence of things to come, then Fairmont will be advancing the music scene for many albums to come.

-Mark Pranger

markysparky07@yahoo.com

Fairmont-Hell Is Other People

May 1, 2005

fairmontBand Name: Fairmont
Album Name: Hell Is Other People
Best element: Neil Sabatino’s voice.
Genre: Indie-rock
Website: http://www.fairmontmusic.com
Label name: Renfield Records (www.renfieldrecords.com), Reinforcement Records (www.reinforcementrecords.com)
Band e-mail: neil@fairmontmusic.com

Some bands stay the same. Better bands tweak their sound between albums. The best bands evolve, putting out a musical diary of a life in progress. We still listen to Wilco because no one knows what’s coming next- the same thing with Radiohead. We love bands that we can’t pin down.

That’s why Fairmont is so good. When I first heard their new release Hell is Other People, I was shocked. My critic flags went up, and epithets were soon scrawled out in big letters on imaginary walls: “Where’s the acoustic guitar?” “Why is there a bassist?” “Why is Fairmont rocking?” and most of all “What possessed them to tone down the vocals?”

Yes, Fairmont hasn’t just tweaked their sound. They have given it an extreme makeover, and while it hurt at first, I think that the wrinkles have smoothed out in my perception of this album. Yes, it is way different then Anomie, which is still my favorite indie rock CD of all-time, but it’s also very strong in its own right. It retains many of the qualities that I liked about Anomie, but with different focus. Anomie is about being bitter- the acoustic guitar jangled in an angry way, the vocals were a nasally sneer, absence of bass lent an urgency to the sound, and the fey way in which they pulled it all off made Anomie a near-perfect snapshot of the Neil Sabatino mind. It is a virtually flawless album in many ways.

Hell Is Other People, despite the more bitter-sounding title, actually focuses more on making cohesive music than just being bitter. The songs, now fleshed out with the talents of John McGuire on bass, feature two electric guitars instead of the old acoustic/electric configuration. And, sin of sins, they’ve pulled the vocals down in the mix to more coherently mesh with the music. The result is an album of indie-rock that retains much of the Fairmont songwriting style, but sounds much more polished and ‘normal’ than the Anomie-era Fairmont did.

Is that polish a bad thing? It’s up to the listener to decide. It’s like saying, “Is the switch from ‘voice of a generation’ OK Computer to the self-indulgent Kid A good or bad?” There’s people on both sides. Some people will point at “The Monster You’ve Become” and say that it’s the dark, harmonic rock sound that Fairmont seemed to be aspiring towards on Anomie– others will point to “Monday” and scream that Fairmont would have never made a stab at such a generic rock sound on their previous album.

There are songs here that showcase the brilliance of Fairmont- The dark, overbearing tones of “Hypochondriac” hearken towards bright things for the rocking side of Fairmont. “Twenty/Twenty” allows the unique vocals of Neil Sabatino to shine -complete with vibrato, snarl, and weird melodies- in the context of rock. That’s where Fairmont should be heading. And no matter what anyone says, Neil Sabatino’s voice is great. You will never forget it, and you’ll hum along with it. Therefore, it’s great.

So is the polish a good thing? I would say yes, because, all points considered, Hell is Other People is a good album. It’s a great album to drive to, you’ll get some of it stuck in your head, and you’ll be able to relate to a lot of the lyrics. They’re not all bitter- in fact, only “The Monster You’ve Become”, “Your Pictures on My Dartboard”, and “4th of July” even approach becoming caustic.

If the point of a review is to decide whether to buy a CD or not, I say buy this- no question. Fairmont will always be light-years ahead of the average indie band. But back to theoretical musing- could Hell is Other People be Fairmont’s The Bends before they accomplish their OK Computer? Only time will tell. Hopefully they’ll keep evolving and the next album will show us a completely different side of Fairmont.

-Stephen Carradini

IndependentClauses@hotmail.com

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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