Nov. 21--Hey, look! A rock 'n' roll band!
In an era where seemingly every musician is spending their tip money on dulcimer lessons and doing their best to look like a farmhand with Justin Bieber's hairdo, it's great to hear a local band making what might've once been called "alternative rock" back in the Paleozoic Era.
Not that this is some kind of throwback, because it's really not. But it's got the spirit that quirky, nervy geek-punk bands used to possess in spades, back when the Dead Milkmen and Devo and the Ramones and the B-52's were stronger influences upon the youth of America.
The Farsights used to be Phil Jents and the Farsights. Jents still is in the band, but now he's just a dude in the band rather than THE dude in the band. He's probably still the main dude, but the idea is that this isn't his solo project anymore. And that's cool. This does sound like a group of pals getting together and making a racket rather than supporting the ideas of one person, so it's a good choice, and it shows that Jents and his bandmates (drummer Ryan Nelson and bassist Brynn Sias) are in all-for-one basement-jam mode, which always is good to hear, especially in this era of collaboration-via-computer.
We begin with "Candy Gun Show," in which a slow, loud intro gets T-boned by a herky-jerky pop-punk chord progression. Jents' voice comes in low and sonorous instead of yelpy and hyper, which usually is what happens in this sort of music. It's nice to hear someone taking the vocal path less traveled. "How did it all come down to this?" Jents sings, stretching the last word out as far as he can go. Nelson whacks the holy heck out of his hi-hat, and Sias plays a solid supporting role, dropping in melodic little fills.
"I don't know what freedom means to you," Jents sings in "Short Way Down," a social-commentary tune that starts with gentle vocal and guitar before the band comes in. The lyrics here get a little on-the-nose as Jents paints a picture of a person shooting heroin in an alley and of children in danger from gun violence and then comments: "It seems we've lost our dignity." He then follows this with a reference to "Bobby D" -- Bob Dylan -- and the song officially becomes a bit too "Chocolate Rain." But the chorus is a corker, so that's good. "It's a long way up, and a short way down," Jents sings.
"Interstate 35" finds Jents talk-singing about crippled trees over a Neil Young chord progression. "The ground looks slightly indecisive / like an oil-slicked treadmill," he intones. It doesn't really make any sense (as the ground doesn't have a consciousness with which it makes decisions), but it sounds pretty good. The song ends before it takes off, but the mood is kind of cool and noir throughout.
"Cut Down These Trees" almost finds Jents in Jello Biafra mode. "Tell us why, tell us how!" he barks. "Nehemiah" is the ballad of the album, with a nice harmonized chorus at the end that sounds like Jents is singing "We eat!" over and over. (He probably isn't.) "How Scared Are You" is a solid, catchy antiwar punk number that resembles something from the '80s, down to the reference to the television as "the tube."
This self-titled release shows a band with lots of energy and potential, but it also shows a band that seems like it could tighten up its ideas and get weirder and more demented to great effect through accentuation of its positives. As it stands, though, it's a solid debut, and the Farsights have plenty of room to grow.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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