J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Now Departing:
The Graves of Fairmount - Calendars & Casualties
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Follow the Lights

The Graves of Fairmount
Calendars & Casualties EP
(Self-Released ; 2007)

There are a lot of bands in indie-rock that are seen as essential parts of the canon. They are even talked about as being influential, yet sometimes its hard to see their influence show up in really discernible ways. Every so often, wisps of those bands will emerge in music that sounds almost as freshly formed as they did in their heyday. The Graves of Fairmount, the nom de recording of Paul O'Keefe, is an example of one of those emergences. It helps that O'Keefe, though not from there originally, has made the town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina his home. If there is a home for indie-rock in the Old North State, it's Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas.

This four song EP does a lot to state O'Keefe's case as an obvious student of the style of indie that hit its stride in the 90s - opener "Ignore the Forecast" recalls Guided By Voices at its most catchy and immediate. A lo-fi sensibility, but without the annoying, distracting factors, permeates the track right down to the occasional missteps in the drumming. The small mistakes are endearing, giving the song's kinetic, burgeoning emotion all the more genuine a feel - as if the energy of the song is too vibrant to be trusted to be right on time at all points. "Why I Left Berkley" waxes reminiscent of late-period Replacements with its bouncy, yet weary, feel and the touches of strings courtesy of the lone other musician on the EP, Erin Martinez.

The closing two songs, "The Ferris Wheel Will Destroy Us All" and "For Liz" are probably the most affective on the record. Though "Ignore the Forecast" stands out as the EP's catchiest, these two songs carry a gravity that has been building in the first two songs. Hazy, shimmering and laced with sparse piano notes, "The Ferris Wheel.."'s closest comparison is the early work of the Red House Painters. I hate to continuously invoke other bands to compare O'Keefe's work with - it's not that I find his work to be unoriginal - exactly the opposite. He seems to be mining parts of the indie-spectrum that haven't been touched often enough for my tastes. Denison Witmer has recorded music similar to this in recent efforts, but hasn't taken the production to the hazy, logical extreme that the Graves of Fairmount hit upon right from the start.

For a debut EP, Calendars & Casualties is a remarkable piece of work. It stands up to and begs for repeated listenings and is an exciting calling card from an artist who hopefully we'll hear a lot more from in the near future.

Rating: E(xceptional)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

You can listen to the EP at The Graves of Fairmount's MySpace page.


Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Follow the Lights EP
(Lost Highway ; 2007)

It just doesn't seem like a real year without multiple Ryan Adams releases anymore, so as the year draws to a close, Adams hits us with a companion piece to his earlier-in-2007 release, Easy Tiger. I call it a companion piece for two reasons - first, because stylistically, it reflects Easy Tiger more than it reflects any prior Adams release and second, because it seems like Adams is out to prove something about himself and his new found focus. Adams' stylistic shifts have always been a mixed bag, hitting and missing with fervor, but his work of late (read: 2005 onward) has been more consistent than at other times, largely, it seems, because of his backing band, the Cardinals. So why not throw out a batch of unreleased songs and re-work some older ones in the new 'focused' style and see how it comes out?

The EP opens with the title track, a softer number that echoes its brethren on Easy Tiger. But the second track, "My Love For You Is Real" is where the EP hits its stride. Recalling some of the more uplifting moments from his 2003 Love is Hell EPs, "My Love.." radiates from love song into discordant, shimmering haze by the end. Having been a huge fan of the sound of those EPs, it's nice to hear Adams employ the Cardinals to re-visit the grey textures he evoked so well on them. It's also good to hear that he couldn't keep his hands off of "Blue Hotel." Despite giving the song to Willie Nelson for his Songbird album (which Adams produced), here Adams and the Cardinals give it a go and Adams' lyrics, finally matched with his phrasing and voice, take off on record.

An interesting-but-not-much-else cover of Alice in Chains' "Down in a Hole" comes next followed by a triptych of re-workings of songs from previous albums. First up is the Cardinals' take on Rock 'n' Roll track "This Is It." I never cared much for Rock 'n' Roll, but the Cardinals give this track a nice touch and actually makes me want to possibly re-examine that album. The last two re-visits, however, seem almost unnecessary. The Cardinals didn't play with Adams on Rock 'n' Roll, but they did on the albums that yielded both "If I Am a Stranger" (Cold Roses) and "Dear John" (Jacksonville City Nights), so why bother with the re-recordings? The styles shift a bit: "If I Am.." is softer and more weary, but bears a striking resemblance (or is it even the same recording?) as a version released on a 7" single right before Cold Roses came out. "Dear John" is missing the duet of Norah Jones (here taken over by backing Cardinals) and is decidedly less 'country' as the version from Jacksonville City Nights, but otherwise isn't that noteworthy.

If Adams is trying to prove his consistency by hashing out both new and older material in the new, 'Cardinals' style, then the Follow the Lights EP is as good a point as he can make for now. But given that a lot of the heat that Easy Tiger took was this very focus (too conservative, too polished), it makes you wonder if a more consistent Ryan Adams is going to be worth returning for again and again. You used to know you were always going to get a show, whether you loved it or hated it. Now, he may just inspire indifference.

Rating: I(nteresting)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - "My Love For You Is Real"

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - "This Is It"

You can listen to a sample of "Blue Hotel" at Ryan Adams' MySpace page.

You can download some other Ryan Adams over at EMusic.

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  • At 9:55 PM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous S. said…

    Did you see your Graves of Fairmount review cross-posted on his MySpace page? I was really, sincerely beaming with pride. :)


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