Progressive music and acoustic guitars have always had an interesting relationship, starting way back in the 1960’s with pioneering bands like Jethro Tull. But it wasn’t until the fairly recent rise in popularity of fingerstyle guitarists like Jon Gomm and Andy McKee that people realized the potential of experimentation inherent to the acoustic guitar as a standalone instrument. Enter Farfetch’d, an Indian artist set on creating a gorgeous mélange of fingerstyle guitar techniques and lush post-rock/downtempo electronica à la Tycho on the new album Southern Skies Motel .
“The Lunar Observatory” is the title of this album’s first tune, and, from the first note on, it becomes abundantly clear that the astronaut on Southern Skies Motel is a perfect metaphor for the music contained within. The way the guitar notes dance around in the ambient orbit of the reserved electronic background is weightless, sprawling about in their own pace and at their own volition. Mixing this smooth dynamic with quite heavy, post-rock-crescendo drumming might seem as an odd choice, but it pays off really well, as it adds an interesting duality to the already exotic musical mixture Farfetch’d have concocted. This is a beautiful opener, magnificent even, and a good representation of what’s to come in the next 38 minutes.
While most of Southern Skies Motel’s runtime is spent purely instrumentally, there are a few instances where vocals do pop up, and they are fantastic. There aren’t any epic belted notes or anything too spectacular, which wouldn’t fit the style of Farfetch’d anyway, but the range and feel the vocals display is a welcome addition to the tapestry provided by the instrumental foundation. See for example “This Incoherent Pale Sky”: Soft guitars and lush electronics accentuate the laid-back nature of the vocal patterns. Sounds of water and a piano are later accompanied by a rhythm played on the tabla, and here the vocals in turn accentuate the intricate pulse of the instruments. As the song fades out, it becomes more and more distorted, like when the batteries of your mp3 player (boy, did I just date myself) are beginning to run out, which I find to be a neat effect, contrasting the melodious nature of the song.
Comparing Farfetch’d to modern fingerstyle guitar pioneers in the likes of Jon Gomm may be pretty obvious and usually I try to avoid stating the obvious. In this case however, I had to make an exception from this self-imposed rule. It just fits too well to ignore. Both musicians are veritable artisans in the craft of interweaving unforgettable melodies and intriguing rhythms, using only the acoustic guitar as the point from which to mold their own little cosmos. ‘Progressive’ doesn’t always have to mean flashy. True craftsmanship has seldom failed to propel this kind of music to new heights, and Southern Skies Motel is a crowning example for this.
The last song I’d like to shed some light on is “Loose.” Hands down, this is the most electronica-infused track on Southern Skies Motel, as well as the shortest one. This doesn’t hinder its impact in any way, though. The guitar pretty much takes a backseat for once and lets the other ingredients of the Farfetch’d formula shine, especially the drums. Dynamic, groovy and precise with some frills thrown in here and there, the drumming in this song is as post-rock as it can get without relying too heavily on pre-existent tropes.
As an avid admirer of modern acoustic music, to say that this album absolutely floored me is an understatement. Southern Skies Motel merges the most fragile of musical instruments, played in a technical yet emotive fashion, with two equally easygoing genres very dear to my heart in a way I have never experienced before. Farfetch’d have forged 44 minutes of serene repose, a getaway from the hectic and noisy reality of modern existence. Chapeau!
Notable Tracks: “The Lunar Observatory,” “This Incoherent Pale Sky,” “Collide”
FFO: Tycho, Jon Gomm, Caspian