Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. Today's 92nd TBT entry brings us a band whose rabid fan base refuses to accept that their beloved group parted ways in 2013. Texas natives Fair To Midland earned their devout following in part thanks to a truly original take on the well-established sounds from the hard rock and metal spectrum. After separating from Serj Tankian's record label Serjical Strike records, the Fair To Midland collected songs, wrote new material, recorded and produced what would become their final album.
FAIR TO MIDLAND'S ARROWS & ANCHORS
Record Label: E1 Records
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Fair To Midland, whose name is a Texas-style play on the colloquialism ‘fair to middling’, left 4 years in between their heavily touted Fables From a Mayfly and final release Anchors & Arrows. Citing financial and creative hardships, the band took the time they needed to find enough footing to pour themselves into their heaviest and most experimental release Anchors & Arrows.
In a 2011 interview with Rocksound.tv, singer and lyricist Darroh Sudderth spoke about the gap in between records, "We struggled, we fought to stay afloat as individuals and as a band. We left our label, management, booking agent and essentially started over. The bulk of our time was spent writing and just attempting to get back on our feet and keep our footing."
In 2010, while the group was on the road touring, a tire blew on their van. The van flipped "one and a quarter times" and, according to a January 2010 Dallas Observer article by Pete Freedman, landed on it's side. While each band member escaped with their lives and relatively uninjured, the crash maimed most of their gear, setting the band back even further.
In a 2011 GuitarWorld interview with guitarist Cliff Campbell, interviewer Josh Hart asks about the direction of Anchors & Arrows, to which Campbell replied, "It started a lot like the last album, but I think we started taking more influence from more straight-up rock 'n' roll. The progressiveness is still there, of course, but there are a lot more rock riffs there that didn't really exist before so much on Fables. We were looking for a big, epic feel on that album, and we still do that same thing, but those moments of rock just really needed to be captured, and I think we really did that on quite a few of the songs."
The same article goes on to talk about the band's collaboration with producer Joe Barresi. Campbell quips, "He brought the tone. He just totally expanded our tone and made us sound like the rock band we wanted to be."
And that's exactly what Anchors & Arrows brings in droves: demanding, charismatic riffs packed with energy and vibrancy. Barresi is a natural choice to bring these sparkling elements to life, seeing as how he's worked with like-minded groups such as Chevelle, Queens of the Stone Age, and Kyuss. This insightfully forged heaviness brought a renewed energy to their touring performances, detailed in a variety of live footage DVD's.
Despite the massive struggles to get the album off the ground, Arrows & Anchors is a polished work from beginning to end. Each sonic element commands attention and displays the thoughtfulness in regard to exciting, catchy song writing. There isn't a throwaway track on the entire album. Tracks such as "Musical Chairs" exemplify their palpable song-writing synergy, a talkative bass line, and the prowess of Sudderth's vocal range:
Three years prior to the release of Arrows & Anchors, the demo for "Musical Chairs" was leaked to Texas radio station 93X where it lasted three weeks in "cage matches" pitted against other new releases. It was eventually pulled by their label. Soon afterward, demos of two other songs, "Bright Bulbs and Sharp Tools" and "Rikki Tikki Tavi", made their way onto YouTube where hungry fans listened to them on repeat.
Though in a bizarre creative decision possibly brought on by the monetary issues facing the band, one of the best songs not only from Anchors & Arrows, but of their entire catalog, was designated as an iTunes exclusive.
"Pour the Coal to 'Er" is a haunting and somber swan song to leave fans with. Its clever melodies and signature catchy chorus coupled with chilling lyrics fill the listener with introspection and the question of 'what could have been' had the band continued. The song It's a perfect final note for a band that left the stage far before their time.
The way Fair to Midland craft a song is a masterclass in both chorus writing and instrument collaboration. Each track off of Anchors & Arrows is memorable thanks to the success these two brilliantly executed elements. Track-by-track, the 15 songs on the album effortlessly sail along, crescendo after crescendo, motivated by appealing, intriguing drum work.
As aforementioned, Fair to Midland's loyal fan base has left no stone upturned when it comes to their cherished band. Fans are eager to dig up whatever lost media and early demos they can find. "Bravo Sierra" and "God Help Us" are rough cuts found on a producers old hard drive that display the unwillingness of fans to let go.
While most of the band members have moved on to non-musical careers, Matt Langley and Brett Stowers, the band's former keyboardist and drummer, helped create the band Erstwhile which is still active and on Spotify. While officially defunct, Fair to Midland still seem alive thanks to an indelible mark they've left on their fans. Still, despite their best efforts, Fair to Midland may be one of the best bands you've never heard of. Underappreciated despite touring with huge names, Anchors & Arrows still earns the title of one of the best album from the last decade.