Sound: You might now know much of them now, but Texas natives Fair To Midland will likely see its notoriety increase tenfold this coming year with the help of Serj Tankian. The System of A Down vocalist hand-picked FTM to sign with his Serjical Srike Records this year and it's easy to understand why. FTM definitely pushes the limits of the traditional song format, just as SOAD has done in many of its own songs, and this is evident in the band's Drawn And Quartered EP.
The first track Orphan Anthem '86 is melodically memorable, beginning with a haunting piano line. The song eventually goes up and down intensity and tempo-wise, and the guitars make a huge impression each time they enter into it. It's definitely vocalist Darroh Sudderth that makes the song the most unique, however. His vocal style ranges from a low whisper to a high-pitched wail. The ever-changing vocals do keep things interesting, even when the song gets stuck in one place.
While FTM (vocalist Sudderth, bassist Jon Dicken, guitarist Cliff Campbell, keyboardist/pianist Matt Langley, and drummer Brett Stowers) don't really sound like SOAD, they do have the same eclectic-sounding music and it's not easy to pinpoint what genre they are. Drawn And Quartered has 4 audio tracks, but it's the video track called Drawn And Quartered Kinescope (a kinescope being a cathode-ray tube in a television receiver that returns the received signal into a picture on a luminescent screen) that is the most revealing. It's in this portion that you'll see Sudderth give an emotionally charged, almost spastic performance that you can't take your eyes off of. The music does have a hypnotic quality to it, but it will probably be the live show that does most of the mesmerizing.
A Seafarer's Knot and Abigail are live audio performances, and you're able to get a bit better indication of audiences' response to the band, particularly when the fans start singing along. A Seafarer's Knot is actually the best track on the EP, allowing riffs to finally take center stage in the intro. The vocal phrasing is a highlight as well, as is the case on most of the other tracks. Sudderth's vocals are distinct -- so much so that it might annoy some people. But behind the unique delivery is strong vocal ability that goes beyond the screaming heard in a lot of bands today. // 8
Lyrics: The lyrics stand out in Fair To Midland's songs, and they seem to be just as unique as Sudderth's vocals. There definitely seems to have been a lot of effort put into the writing, with songs going in places you might not expect from an average rock tune.
While it's not always easy to understand the meaning of the songs on Drawn And Quartered, there is still plenty of quality imagery. Orphan Anthem '86 is probably the best example of this ornate language. Sudderth sings, A fountain of sapphires under the bridges of Utah; Instilled in us ethics not by god, but by our choice; I can't even imagine, but I can see it. It has a poetic feel that should definitely appeal to a lot of new listeners.
Kyla Cries Cologne is another track with some odd lyrics, and it's hard not to read them over and over to get a meaning. He sings, Bound by the salt not your earth; The hat mocks the rabbit while the bee stings the shark; Stop the start, these are my disguises. I'm sure there are some fans out there who know the secret message in this one, but it might leave newcomers scratching their heads. While it's nice to have a little intrigue in the music, the boys do walk a fine line in the lyric department. // 8
Overall Impression: Depending on what your taste in vocals are, Sudderth will either leave you begging for more or having you turn off your CD rather quickly. For me, I found him to be the most important aspect of the band. When you're able to accomplish 10 different vocal styles in the course of a few tunes, there's something to be said for that.
Aside from the fact that Fair To Midland has Serj Tankian seal of approval, the band does prove itself to be worthy of the attention on Drawn And Quartered. Although it only has 4 audio tracks and 1 video kinescope, it is still a fantastic start for the up-and-comers. They have a dead-on sense of melody, but they also have an atmospheric quality that will likely take shape a lot more on their upcoming full-length to be produced by David Bottrill (Tool, King Crimson). While they are not quite in the same category as their label's founder, they do have a lot of promise. // 8