Review – Fathom Lane – Self Titled

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By Becca Martin

Just a year after the debut of Fathom Lane’s first album “Down by Half” the band is set to release their self-titled follow up. Self financed through Michael’s own label Longplayer Records the recording was done on vinyl.  This was in line with the band’s mission to replicate the sounds that Michael grew up with in the 1970’s.  Ferrier noted influences like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.

Fathom Lane worked with Zachary Hollander of Minneapolis’s Pearl Studio to create music that “sounds classic, that you may not be able to place in a certain time”. Michael always wanted to “make vinyl with this band, which is so much more of an art form than digital. It forces you to invest more, and not just in a monetary way”. In the studio they recorded straight to tape with the computer monitors turned off as much as possible. What Hollander and Ferrier produced is a well thought out album as a whole, with a clear and timeless sound.

In this world of one song You Tube hits Ferrier wanted to conjure up the past, where you would listen over and over to an album while poring over the lyric sheets. I did enjoy listening to the album as a whole to see the progression. Both of Fathom Lane’s albums have explored the “idea that the narrator should have a counterpoint”-a man and a woman’s voice or “both sides of the coin”. There are nods to Ferrier’s former electronic sounds such as on “Ache Me”, but overall the album is quite guitar driven and it serves the songs well. I found it difficult to categorize the album’s sound; their first release “Down by Half” was described as alt country but this one feels quite different. There is a debt to be paid to seventies rock, I would call it a blend of Willie Nelson and Shudder to Think with some 1970’s AM thrown in.

Gospel roots inform the angelic and disarming sound of Ashleigh Still.  The combined voices of Michael and Ashleigh are so melodic that they are better together than alone. The two have been singing together for one year but you would swear a lifetime. Ferrier describes their creative connection as a “quick” one.   My favorite songs are always the ones where their vocals volley and weave together.  In the brilliant cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” the result is a ten.

Ferrier is a quite prolific.  Already writing for a Jason Molina tribute album, I wanted to know how he kept it going with a young family, real job etc.  He credits his wife and past life as his inspiration.  Even after work, a show, drinks at the CC Club, and this interview, he still went home and wrote. Wow.

I am quite taken by the album artwork. It pulled me in with what I assumed was an image of the Northern Lights. I was way off. Michael spent time searching Polaroid photos and came across photographer Dan Ryan. The cover shot is a Polaroid of an abandoned military installation in the UK.  The site is in the moors and romantically named Will of the Whisps.  Publicity stills of Michael and Ashleigh are enigmatic featuring goddess like looks for her and spaceman gear for him. Tony Nelson who is a huge talent for sure, took the shots.

The songs are all very individual but have a distinct thought or path.  “Sugardown” is suggestive with double entendre’ laden lyrics that bespeak of lust, addiction, and co-dependency.   The recent video shoot for “Sugardown” in Winona was authentically seedy.  Michael relayed the tale to me in squirmy detail: “The day of shooting was at a mid-century style motel that is the kind of place that smells strongly of stale ashtray, downy mildew, old grey tube sock, and whatever sickeningly flowery disinfectant that they use to try and cover up all of those smells.  We must have been quite a site to see for passers-by…shooting video of a semi-clad couple in through the windows with drapes only slightly drawn, loud music blasting at times, people doing not-easily-explainable-things-with sugar-in-all-its-forms (raw, powdered, candied, pixie, gummied, jellybeaned)”. Michael said that one truck passed by several times, each time slower, and finally the driver inquired just what kind of a movie were they making?  He did not seem convinced by the reply of a music video.  My favorite detail about the shoot was that the staff asked them if they would like the bathroom cleaned before they used the room.  Yikes!  “Dream Her Name” is eerie; you can feel your heart rate increasing as the song climaxes in anxiety. A “don’t go in the basement” kind of a song.   My favorite would have to be “Nightshade”.  The song begins with a definite Willie Nelson tone but as soon as Ashleigh comes in you feel the clingy sexiness of it, and wonder what the moral question is.  “Jack Knife” sticks with you, it reminded me of Shudder to Think in style.  The song alternates with almost hidden, whispered vocals and then opens up with a striking guitar solo courtesy of Ben Glaros who teaches at Twin Town. Couldn’t help but think of the HBO drama “True Blood” and how “Jack Knife” would be a great accompaniment to the show.  In “Grey Dress” the interlude is poppy but culminates in a very heavy noise wall.  The cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” was fantastic. Fathom Lane made it their own which is not easy with such an acclaimed song.   The Laurel String quartet & Orchestra contributed their talents to the cover also. “Lazy” was like traveling back in time to the 1970’s circa Nilsson. Ferrier grew up with that time in music and you could certainly give credit to the era for informing the sound of the album. With “Ache Me” Ferrier harkens back to his more electronic past, with a fun rhyming romp of a song. “Waltzing Jesus brings back the guitar solo in a way that defines the song.  That song in particular could be spoken of in an Americana Alt fashion.

I felt quite privileged to have the opportunity to speak with Ferrier over drinks at the CC Club.  Cheers to the CC on their local jukebox on which you can hear Fathom Lane’s album.   Michael is not one to let the dust settle.  I made the comment that maybe Fathom Lane had found “their sound”.  Michael chastised me a bit; “already?” was his quick response.  He went on to say “every record will be different, a snapshot in time. This is just the first act.”  This act was pretty damn good, cannot wait to see what is next for Fathom lane.

Join Fathom Lane October 22nd Triple Rock Social Club with Sturgill Simpson (the same day that their record is due out BTW- (although you can pre-order now) available on vinyl, CD, & download

Fathom Lane Album release show November 23rd at Icehouse with Batteryboy

Fathom Lane is on FB, Twitter, and www.fathomlane.com, and will be seen on tour early 2014.

Fathom Lane consists of Michael Ferrier, Ashleigh Still, Ben Glaros, Shane Akers, Doan Roessler, Peter Hennig, & Peter Sands.

Strings support provided by The Laurels String Quartet & Orchestra

Zachary Hollander of Pearl Studio Minneapolis MN

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