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.
I was having lunch with a friend my age (mid-20s) a few weeks ago. He got a bachelor’s degree in music and now works as the music director at the church I go to. The topic veered toward orchestral music, which my friend lamented as dying. “I go to the symphony, and I’m the youngest person there by 30 years!” he said with frustration. And it’s true; composers aren’t the sexy, rebellious Liszts of old; hipsters don’t flock to traditional classical works. Still, there are people working in the idiom, and I don’t think we’ll sound the last playing of Mozart any time soon.
The Noise Revival’s Nathan Felix is the latest in this movement of young composers working to create full orchestral work, releasing his debut symphony The Curse The Cross & The Lion today. It is indeed a full symphony of almost a half-hour’s length. This isn’t pseudo-soundtrack music, although there are some moments reminiscent of good film scores. No, this is a consistent piece of music that takes full attention and full energy to enjoy. There are nuances. In some ways, I had to listen with a different set of ears than my usual “indie-pop” ones; there are different goals, different textures, different ways of being. There’s a heartbreaking oboe solo that stands out amid “V. Don’t Give It Up,” which is one of the most beautiful and powerful sections in the piece; that’s not going to happen in indie-pop all that often.
I’m not qualified to assess this symphony against other classical music, but I can say that it’s incredibly rewarding to listen to for those who don’t listen to a ton of classical music. If you’re into orchestral music, have an adventurous ear, or just like beautiful things, then The Curse The Cross & The Lion should be on your to-hear list.
I idolized the Beach Boys instead of The Beatles growing up, so Pet Sounds is a monument in my musical development. Even as a teenager, I was able to grasp how incredibly difficult everything was on that album. So it’s fairly ambitious to cover the whole album in an indie-pop/indie-folk idiom, as the bands on Mint 400 Records set out to do. (That’s a direct download link, btw.)
The Duke of Norfolk (whom I manage) kicks off the album with a singer/songwriter-esque take on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” setting the mood for the rest of the album. The One & Nines conform their Motown soul bent into a passionate version of “I’m Waiting for the Day,” while Fairmont’s stand-out rendition of “God Only Knows” is probably very close to what Brian Wilson would have done in the power-pop idiom. A few of the tracks delve heavily into lo-fi arrangements and performances, so fans of that genre have plenty to love as well. It’s free, too! Enjoy Mint 400’s Pet Sounds.
This project has been a microcosm of my whole 10 years running this blog: a little idea that got bigger and bigger with help from all sorts of people who pitched in. Massive thanks go out to The Carradini Family, Uncle David and Aunt Rose, the Lubbers Family, Neil Sabatino & Mint 400 Records, Albert & Katy, Drew Shahan, Odysseus, Joseph Carradini, Jeffrey M. Hinton, Esq., @codybrom a.k.a Xpress-O, Conner ‘Raconteur’ Ferguson, Janelle Ghana Whitehead, Tyler “sk” Robinson, Jake Grant, Anat Earon, Zack Lapinski, Mila, Tom & April Graney, Stephen Carradini, Theo Webb, Jesse C, D. G. Ross, Martin & Skadi, Jacob Presson, Michelle Bui, and Elle Knop.
The first 200 downloads of the album are free, so go get ’em while they’re available! (The price is $4 a side once the freebies are gone.) The streaming will always be free, so if nothing else you can go listen to some sweet tunes from some of Independent Clauses’ favorite bands. Once again, thanks to all who contributed in any way, both to the project and to Independent Clauses’ last 10 years. It’s been a thrilling, wild ride.
Never Give Up: Celebrating 10 Years of the Postal Service
I’ve spent almost ten years receiving PR from bands, but I’m just now foraying into the other side of things by creating press pitches. I was surprised to find that even though I’d been reading them for years, I was oddly stumped when it came to writing one. So, after much trial and error, I’ve found something that I like and that gets the information out quickly.
At the same time that I’ve been diversifying into other areas of the music endeavor, I’ve been getting a ton more pitches than usual. Growth is good, but it does require new structures to manage the volume. So! I’m implementing a new submissions policy starting today. I won’t ruthlessly delete pitches that don’t adhere to this model, but I will send back an e-mail asking for your information re-stated in the below format. I have also included this information on the Submissions tab. Here’s what I’m looking for.
Where are you from? What is your genre? What are you promoting? How long (in songs) is the EP or album? What are two or three bands you sound like? Why are you contacting me (did someone refer you? did you find us through another blog? Personalization is important.) Make sure to link to your website in here, preferably hyperlinked to your band name.
Title Release Date/Release Label (if any, self-released is 100% cool) Streaming Link(s) Download Link (I vastly prefer download codes from Bandcamp) Single? Available to post? Purchase links, if you want me to post them Any other info(link to press page or Dropbox with photos would work here) Outro sentence
Here’s an example from The Duke of Norfolk.
My name is Adam Howard. I currently live in Tulsa, Oklahoma and record music under the name The Duke of Norfolk. I have just released a 5-track EP about the importance of seizing the day entitled Le Monde Tourne Toujours. People often tell me that I have a sound similar to that of old-school Sufjan Stevens, Josh Ritter, or Tallest Man on Earth.
I’m contacting Independent Clauses because of your past coverage of the Tallest Man on Earth. If you’re interested, I’d love to hear what you think about the EP. Here are the details:
When I’m not covering music at Independent Clauses, I’m helping make other music: I’ve been booking/managing Oklahoma alt-folk singer/songwriter The Duke of Norfolk (aka Adam Howard) for the past two years. Because a review of his EP would be rather self-serving, here’s an interview in celebration of his new EP Le Monde Tourne Toujours, which releases today through Mint 400 Records on all digital retailers.
IC: Le Monde Tourne Toujours is your first release since a series of 5 EPs all named after birds. How did you decide to end that series and release this standalone EP?
AH: When I started planning that series I had a body of songs I had written specifically for the series. All of them fit loosely around the idea of birds naturally reacting to the changes in weather by migration. I grouped the songs by sub-themes and plotted out the series. So, in a sense, the series’ end was planned from its beginning. The second part of the question is a little more complicated.
The bird EPs were intended to lead up to my debut album, which is to be comprised of select songs from those EPs re-recorded for a unified feel. Before my tour last summer I started those recordings and then I toured those songs for the whole summer. So when I returned from the summer and took a look at my half finished recordings, I realised that I was rather burnt out on those songs. So I decided to take a break from them. And that’s essentially what this EP is, a break.
You’ve experimented with a variety of different sounds, from electronic to stark acoustic to piano-based. How did you choose the sound palette for Le Monde?
My reasoning for the experimentation that you’re talking about is twofold. I wanted to experiment for my own sake, to practice recording and composing with different sounds and to figure out what I can make work and what I can’t. More than that, though, I wanted to establish early on that my releases won’t all have the same sound palette and I don’t want people to expect them too.
The sound palette for Le Monde Tourne Toujours is by far less intentional. I sort of just let it happen. The first song that I recorded on the EP was ‘A Dream Waltz’, the fourth track, and I arranged and composed it on the fly. After I had mostly finished that recording, I used that as the sound palette for recording the rest of the EP.
Your output can certainly be considered prolific. How often do you write? How many songs do you have unrecorded at one time? How do you decide which songs go on what releases?
I feel like I don’t write often enough, but at the same time, I would never have time to record all the songs that I write. On a good week I might write three or four songs that I am happy with. But on a bad week I usually at least start writing a song or two that I may or may not give up on.
I don’t know how many songs I have unrecorded… at any point it could range from ten to fifty, depending on how much I remember. When I started recording the bird EPs, I had close to fifty songs. Right now I have probably fifteen that I plan on recording at some point.
As far as what goes on what release, it’s mostly just what fits thematically with the rest of that release. A lot of the songs I write with a specific theme in mind, but there are still a lot that I just write.
What are the songs you are writing now sounding like?
The songs that I am writing now involve a fair bit of fingerpicking, so the guitar is not as forceful as it is on some of my other songs and mostly they deal with ideas of home and travel and the uncertain future.
Le Monde is about seizing the day. How did you decide to write on this topic?
Like I’ve mentioned before, Le Monde is something that I kind of just let happen. So it was mostly songs that I had already written that I liked enough but, for the most part, hadn’t yet recorded. Because seizing the day is a concept that I think about quite often, a lot of my straggling songs dealt with it and when I grouped up this collection it was sort of at the heart of all of the songs.
Related question: How do you write lyrics? Do you write them all at once, or do you do it spurts, or does it vary?
It varies for sure. I think that my favourite songs have all been ones that I’ve written in like fifteen minutes… but there are definitely songs that I spend weeks on.
You toured the nation this past summer; what was one great story or performance from those 73 days?
A lot of things happen when you travel the country in a van for 73 days. So the summer was full of stories and, naturally, also full of performances. But one of the many memorable stories took place when we were driving through the Catskills. It was one of the members of our little company’s birthday and we were on the lookout for something out of the ordinary to do to commemorate that when we spotted a slew of rowboats banked by a quite picturesque lake. We found one that wasn’t tied up and risked the possibility of getting shot for thieves to borrow it for a cruise around the lake.
It’s not that exciting of a story and there were plenty more adventurous things that happened, but that one felt sort of like I was in a Mark Twain story for a few minutes.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013?
2013 is going to be busy for me, though not as busy as 2012 appeared. I am planning to record my debut album, at long last, start recording my sophomore, and play a few shows but I’m also working on some other projects. I am helping several friends by recording and producing some of their songs, and I’m also planning on writing an album that I’m going to release under some other name detailing a friend’s experience living in Moscow.
Le Monde Tourne Toujours is available for purchase on digital retailers, as well as for streaming on Spotify and Bandcamp.
Hello 2013! The new year has arrived at Independent Clauses, with new music, new projects and (already) newly discovered ways to waste time. Sounds good, right? Let’s get to it.
Independent Clauses’ 10-year anniversary is coming up, which means we’ll have a super-special birthday gift for you in May that I’m working really hard to complete.
I’m going to be a guest judge in SpinTunes 6! SpinTunes is a really cool songwriting contest that includes completing four songwriting tasks relatively quickly. I’ll be judging round two. You should enter! Yes, you!
Alt-folk artist The Duke of Norfolk, whom I manage/book, will be releasing a new EP via Mint 400 Records on January 29 entitled Le Monde Tournes Toujours! It’s pretty incredible. I’ll keep you posted with details.
I’ll finally (finally) be releasing a new EP as well, of my own music. It should drop in mid-February, but the details on it are much less set than the other release.
I’m hoping to establish the Independent Clauses Traveling Show, which will feature me showing up in a town I’ve never been in once a year or so and putting on a concert featuring the bands I love from that town. Details to come!
I’ll be hitting SXSW, too!
And, as always, I’ll be reviewing all sorts of new music, starting tomorrow. Here’s to a busy but wonderful 2013!
It’s not just XKCD that has noticed a lack of popular Christmas songs written and/or recorded after 1980. Shane Vidaurri of The Ashes noticed this as well, and pitched the idea of a Christmas compilation album to his record label, Mint 400 Records. Label owner Neil Sabatino (Fairmont) agreed, and now we have A Very Merry Christmas Compilation to bring cheer in.
The comp is excellent because everyone here turns in a stellar effort. None of the seven bands phone in it or get schmaltzy. These are honest-to-goodness Christmas tunes, worthy of being replayed on radio until no one remembers who the artist is anymore and no one cares. This would especially work because the comp doesn’t stick to one genre, but ranges from The Duke of Norfolk’s folky “Lovely Winter” to Fairmont’s jangly “This Song is Your Christmas Gift” to the ‘50s style rock ‘n ‘roll of The Ones and Nines’ “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus.”
The lattermost is a perfect opening track to the compilation, as it sets a jubilant tone for the album. It’s like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and I love it. Adam N. Copeland apes the Killers’ tradition of putting out a soaring, modern pop tune for the holiday, with a tune that reaches to the same vocal heights as Brandon Flowers’.
There’s some melancholy as well: The Ashes’ “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” can’t even staunch the somber elements of the tune with an almost island-flavored take on the tune. “Sorry I’m Broke” and “This Song Is Your Christmas Gift” are both about the stress of being poor at Christmas.
No compilation would be complete without a hymn or two: The Duke of Norfolk’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” brings banjo and beatboxing together for an overall reverent take on the classic. I know, that sounds weird; you’ll just have to check it out.
A Very Merry Christmas Compilation takes Christmas music seriously, and the results are some incredible originals and traditionals. Since it’s varied in genre, you can put it on the stereo and let the wildly varied emotions of the season wash over you. If you sprinkled the tunes into your current list of standards, they wouldn’t stand out at all; they’re that good.
Full disclosure: I worked on The Duke of Norfolk’s tracks as a set of critical ears.
So, I don’t just write about music. I also take great joy in writing music. When American Musical Supply gave me the chance to combine these two loves by reviewing musical instruments, I immediately jumped at it. I’m not going to spam y’all, but about once a month I expect to throw a video up about an instrument (which I or some lucky accomplice gets to keep afterwards).
Adam told me that he had long wanted a size 34 guitar (which he called a three-quarters size guitar), because of their versatility and usefulness. “I can throw it on my back,” he said. “It’s like a sketchbook or a notepad.” It is almost the size of one, certainly; it was remarkably light and incredibly easy to play. Even I, with my stumpy fingers (hello, bass and piano), was able to reach frets easily. For someone with regular-sized fingers like Adam, it made playing chords that require distant frets positively easy. “When I play this chord on a dreadnaught size guitar, it’s incredibly difficult,” Adam said. “Here, it’s just easy.”
But the benefits of this Taylor extend beyond its playability. Adam had a high opinion of Taylor guitars before this review, and those expectations were fulfilled in the make and finish of the baby Taylor. Its sound quality was appealing to him as well. Small guitars have a bit of a looser sound to the notes because of the way they are strung, and Adam was pleased with their ring and resonance. The guitar sounded great when picking single notes or strumming full chords.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
The first half of Jurgen Klinsmann’s debut last night as U.S. National Soccer coach was pretty boring. The old guard did just enough to stop Mexico from running away with it. When Klinsman sent in the new blood after the break, their creativity and energy put Mexico on the defense for the whole back half.
Consider this new design our second half. Chris Krycho scored two big goals: vastly improving on our old digs, and giving us a sweet mobile version. If you’re in the market for a creative and energetic striker/designer, I’d point you his direction.
With our new design comes a new Twitter account, which will feature my thoughts instead of an indie music newsfeed. Since Facebook mercilessly and without warning destroyed archived our old Facebook page, we have a new one of those too.
In other music-related news, my latest production effort came out Tuesday. “Nightingale” by The Duke of Norfolk inserts little electronic flourishes into his emotional alt-folk, and I think it sounds great. [Editor’s note: This EP is no longer available, but some of its songs are collected on this album.]
Expect an odds and ends post tomorrow, and then a return to CD reviews on Saturday. Here’s to future hat tricks.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.