Wednesday 30 November 2011

Fairewell - Poor, Poor Grendal

Album review by KevW

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Making sweeping atmospheric soundscapes can be a tricky business to perfect. Creating a ten minute wave of formless fuzz interspersed with tiny dots of melody doesn't seem like the most taxing kind of songcraft to master, but in reality it's no different from other forms of music. Like any genre, woozy, introspective dream-pop done correctly can soar majestically; done incorrectly and it's nothing more than a limp snoozefest. It also throws up another conundrum: drawn out, hazey instrumentals can be enchanting, but 45 minutes worth often turns into overkill and sets your potential audience level to 'niche' at best. Dropping in a bunch of 3 minute distorted pop tracks to try to redress the balance can not only detract from your original aim, it attracts accusations of selling out. Get the mix wrong and the album will become an untidy directionless, hotchpotch. Get it right and you're on to a winner. Welcome to the high wire act that is the ethereal shoegaze record.

If we use Slowdive's 'Souvlaki' as a a benchmark when it comes to this type of thing, an album rightly considered a classic, we find the ambience of tracks like 'Souvlaki Space Station' for the purists, interspersed with dreamy, melodic pop such as 'Alison' for those who favour things like actual tunes. Not only does it satisfy more than one taste, it more importantly works as a whole; it's a cohesive work. It's with this combination of understanding and talent that Johnny White, AKA Fairewell, pulls off a similar feat with his debut offering 'Poor, Poor Grendel'. It may have had a lengthy incubation period, but it was worth the wait.

The choral sighs of 'Grendel (Apocalyptic Visions)' ease us in to Fairewell's world of synths and effects pedals, building to a buzz reminiscent of Recurring era Spacemen 3, before 'Others Of Us' explodes into song with a simple, uplifting melody and distant, blurry vocal. It's near spine-tingling in its icy beauty. 'Wild Meadow/I've Been Locked Away' achieves a rare feat of being 11 minutes long yet not outstaying its welcome. It's a prime example of how repetitive atmospherics can be utilised as a tool for inspiration and poignancy; a delightfully soporific listen. The stomping burst of 'Born Under A Bad Sign' brings a flash of colour and constitutes the most accessible moment here; it should certainly be considered a highlight. 'So May We All' echoes back to the aforementioned Slowdive with its rumbling bass and barely-there vocals.

This could be a record to convert those who still consider shoegaze to be a dirty word. It's complete yet each song stands alone solidly, and there's quality on enough levels that different needs are catered for. Despite the downbeat tempo of this album, the songs remain resolutely upbeat, as though they're attempting to force their optimism upon you. It's a task they succeed in with flying colours, 'Poor, Poor Grendel' works like an uplifting tonic. If you're looking to elevate your mood then a healthy dose of Fairewell might be all the medicine you need.

Fairewell's website

Buy the album.

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