Fair to Midland: Arrows and Anchors

Fair to Midland: Arrows and Anchors

Fair to Midland is an amazing band.

The cohesiveness and virtuosity of the instrumentalists, fronted by Darroh Sudderth’s incredible wide range of vocal expression, all coming together to deliver densely creative and hypnotically accessible tunes.  At the current rate, I’m going to have to add Fair to Midland to my all-time favorites list.  This album builds upon their signature sound of Fables from a Mayfly…, their previous album.

The thing that continues to fascinate me is how Matt Langley, their non-technical-dazzler keyboardist, really dominates and steers this prog metal act in a distinctively medieval direction.  From the band name to its impossible-to-decipher lyrics, the band somehow manages to infuse the unlikely element, the feel of Renaissance-era Europe into modern metal, and Matt’s keyboard work is the major contributor of that distinctness.

And the songwriting is of such a high caliber, virtually all songs are single-worthy, with soaring melodies and memorable hooks.  It’s nearly impossible to pick stand-outs out of this bunch, except perhaps for the single they did pick to lead off, “Musical Chairs,” which is indeed a gem of a song.  But the keyboard riff that anchors “Coppertank Island” is irresistibly groovy and the stratospheric chorus of “Short-Haired Tornado” will keep you humming all day after a single listen.  And I can go on like that for just pretty much all tracks.  An album packed with this many good songs offer just superb value — money well spent.

My only gripe, and one that probably doesn’t bother most listeners, is their production.  It’s a slick and competent job, but just like their last effort suffered from garbled-sounding vocals (probably from liberal use of pitch correction), this one also suffers from really fuzzy sounding treble.  It’s OK for everyday mp3-playing-in-the-background usage, but it really doesn’t stand up very well if you turn it up loud on a pair of decent speakers.  It’s a minor niggle but what a bummer it is, to have that blemish on an otherwise perfectly executed package.   Someone like Rick Rubin can pare down on excess echos and ambiance to create a much more crisp and clear imaging — as it is, all instruments blend together too much, creating a slightly mushy impression.  Darn.

But that doesn’t prevent me from marveling at what an amazing band they are, and what an amazing batch of songs they created.  Their lyrics are just so out there that it’s hard to discern any meaningful emotional engagement, but their writing and performance are more than enough to make up for it by filling every song with intrigue, surprise, and ingenuity.

Truly a thinking person’s rock masterpiece.  I’m going to enjoy this one for a long time.