Rosenau and Sanborn‘s Bluebird is a charming update of the back-porch picker motif: instead of all-acoustic instruments, Rosenau and Sanborn play an acoustic guitar and analog synths. These are long, relaxed, warm, comforting, beautifully-lazy arrangements; the duo got together for a weekend, wrote/recorded/had fun for two days straight, and then released their output as-is. There’s occasional background noise evocative of place: a creaking chair, rain, spoken words at the end of tracks, and other bits that give this a totally-lived-in feel. The combination of the slowly, gently unfolding acoustic guitar lines with the subtle tension of the delicate electronics pushing forward elevates this from idle noodling to purposeful creation: these songs feel like they belong, like they exist, even as they float effortlessly toward whatever comes next. This is an ideal soundtrack for reading a good book on a rainy vacation day up in the mountains, which is pretty much an ideal vacation for me. So this is good, good stuff. Recommended.
I’ve been covering Fairmont since the very first months of Independent Clauses’ existence. In recent years, we’ve gone in different sonic directions, but Fairmont is one of the few bands still in existence from IC’s first year. They’ve got serious nostalgia factor for me on top of being a strong indie-rock/dark-indie-pop band. With that as a backdrop, it should not be surprising that Fairmont’s Demo’s & Lost EP’s 2001-2005 (iTunes / Spotify) taps into some strong personal feelings.
Independent Clauses in the early 2000s was a punk/emo/indie-rock blog, and Fairmont in the early 2000s was a punk/emo/indie-rock band. Their 3 Way Split EP that opens this archival collection displays all the hallmarks of early ’00s punk/emo–punk guitar crunch, highly emotional (and occasionally morbid/violent, in the now-uncomfortable style of the era) lyrics about broken relationships, and blazing synthesizers (oh yeah synth-punk! You were a thing!). If you were or are into early Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, or the like, you’ll be into the first bit of this collection for sure. The Hand That Holds The Knife Must Be Cold & Steady EP continues the dramatic lyrics and introduces a lot more screaming into the mix–this is definitely heavier than the first EP, so the previous RIYLs plus Thursday apply.
The three demos that close the first side of the collection shift suddenly into Fairmont’s indie-rock phase; the crunchy punk guitars are replaced by more jangly guitars, the vocals are less aggressive, the melodies are subtler (and at the same time, more indie-pop-oriented), and the tracks are much more indicative of the Fairmont that exists now. The demos aren’t dated, but I assume they’re later than the punk phase. “The Amazing Plastic Boy” is the first vocal performance of the collection that really feels like Fairmont–this performance is still a little raw around the edges, but you can hear Fairmont’s sound coming together through this track. (And that’s the fun of the archives!)
The back half of the collection is mostly short tracks of acoustic-related work; this acoustic phase is what made me interested in Fairmont way back when, so I enjoyed these tracks quite a bit. Interestingly, one non-acoustic standout from this side is an electric version of a song that I loved then and now in its acoustic form: “Rebuilding Home”. “Rebuilding Home” was one of the first songs that I really stored away and kept with me for years from Independent Clauses; it’s a little piece of my personal and professional life that I go back to every now and then, even 16 years later. This noisier version is very demo-y, with crashing drums, practice-space mixing, and other novelties that result from demoing. The charm of the song is still in there: the melody, the earnest lyrics, etc. It’s a good one.
If you’re a hardcore Fairmont fan, this will be a fun trip into the archives. If you’re a fan of early ’00s punk/emo, the first half of the collection will speak to you. If you’re interested in acoustic-fronted indie-rock, the back half will be your jam. For me personally, it’s a big memory trip and a lovely way to say “Thanks, Fairmont.”
While I’ve been focusing on instrumental work recently, I’ve been dabbling back into music with vocals. The artsy downtempo electronica of Alexandra’s “River Snake” is not purely instrumental, as the vocals play a key role in the mood of the song. But the arrangement is deeply important to the song–perhaps even more so than the vocal melodies. By focusing on sonic elements that are highly evocative and association-laden, the song marries the historic with the futuristic and wraps it in mystical vibes.
The track begins with church bells–a staple of ancient life–then introduces a fluttering flute and 1950/1960s voiceover tone that are highly reminiscent of NASA space exploration narratives. This tension between the ancient and the new, the natural and the technological, persists throughout the tune in a productive tension.
After the introduction, a persistent, urgent synth like a dull bell emerges as the pacesetter for the track. Over this urgent line float in layers of vocals, some manipulated and some not. High-pitched synths that evoke theremin and more spacy vibes collide with these collaged fragments of vocals and merge into a piece that joins the past and the future. To further make this marriage or natural and technological clear, Alexandra ends the tune with distant, wailing, undulating vocals that are traditional to many styles of music placed over the sound of water lapping the shore. It’s as if Alexandra has become the titular river snake and the process of becoming was the preceding electronic sounds.
The overall effect is one of mysticism and mystical moments–even though Alexandra tells me that the piece is about “‘perennial fear’ growing like a mold inside the subject’s body, a reflection of unrequited love and separate emotions,” the feelings I get are more of reverence for the process of amid the difficulties and uncertainties of life. It’s a beautiful, exciting, complex, fully-realized piece of work.
“River Snake” comes from upcoming full-length Ecdysis, which drops July 26. While the Ecdysis release show is TBD, you can catch Alexandra on August 17th & 18th as part of Spirit House Music Fest at Azøth in Portland, OR.