St. Albans will probably never be known as a fount of quality indie-rock, but local boys Farm are making music as though that were indeed the case. I gave their debut CD (released under the short-lived moniker House Horse) a pretty positive review a year or two ago, and I've been eagerly anticipating its follow-up, Gray Birds. I'm pleased to say it doesn't disappoint.
To call Farm indie-rock is a bit like saying Led Zeppelin is just a cock-rock band. While the two acts don't exactly sound alike, both showcase a wide range of influences. In Zep's case, it's American blues, British Isles folk and the Devil. Actually, the same could be said of Farm, if you substitute acoustic Tolkien-isms for Appalachian anguish. But guitarist Ben Maddox does rip like Jimmy Page from time to time.
Gray Birds boasts a whopping 18 tracks, which makes it tough to sum up in this wee space. Let's start with the basics: Each member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. This kind of situation can engender creativity, but sometimes affects a band's cohesiveness. That's not the case here. Members Maddox, Jedd Kettler and Joshua Givens share a similar musical outlook, which results in some spooky-ass Americana that's unpretentiously rural yet musically sophisticated. Read on for the highlights.
Kettler's sooty ditty "Boomtown Basement" plays like a Stones number from that band's country-blues period. Maddox's Mellotron strings create a lovely sonic pillow for Kettler's gruffly melodic vocals. Note to geeks: These keys are likely a synth emulation of the cumbersome, tape-operated instrument popularized by The Beatles and King Crimson. Real Mellotrons cost more than some houses, and they weigh nearly as much.
I also quite like Givens' "Spineless," which opens with dark, odd-metered chords and eerie slide guitar. The drums are slightly trashy, which gives the tune a ragged majesty. Maddox's guitar solo is patient and modally adventurous, with weird ghost bends and trills.
"Something I Drew" is a twisted little blues tune with gurgling synth tones and laconic vocals, while "Devil" (see, I told you he'd make an appearance) is a black-as-pitch ode to a soul in the grips of evil that literally gave me goosebumps.
As did quite a few of the other tunes, including the molasses-thick "Old City" and the spacey, Eastern-flavored jam "St. Albans Blues." The latter track alone is well worth the price of the disc.
Farm are a unique band with one foot in roughshod rock 'n' roll and the other in experimental folk-blues. The third foot, if they had one, would surely be in the grave.