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.