The Fox Derby, Life Apart
This one, I have to admit, has taken some time to get under my skin. After 2009′s Regular Dreams, I was psyched to see where swooning, post-New Wave pop outfit The Fox Derby might be headed next, hoping they’d build on the sharp-edged Britpop of tunes like “Hold On The Brakes” or “Open Window.”
And they did, to be sure, but not quite in the way I’d anticipated. Life Apart sees the band turning inward, for the most part, locking themselves away in a darkened room somewhere while life passes them by. The music’s definitely still got a serious Britpop influence to it, especially on songs like “Steam Engine,” which reminds me (in a good way) of The Verve, but it’s darker and more subdued than what they’d done previously.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just different. The darker, more melancholy feel works well for the band, particularly on the title track, one of the definite high points here — “Life Apart” starts with somber, delicate piano and organ before slowly stepping upwards with lead singer Kenneth Pardue’s vocals, a nice bit of theremin, and some subtle backing vocals.
Pardue’s vocals may not be for everybody, by the way, but his somewhat detached, disaffected delivery helps to imbue The Fox Derby’s sound with a fragility it might not otherwise have, making you feel like you’re listening to a man who’s had to stand by and watch powerless as his whole life’s crumbled before his eyes.
There’s a resemblance to Trembling Blue Stars’ Robert Wratten there, and another deeper one to Morrissey himself, but Pardue’s shattered-man sound is absolutely his own, especially on the desperate “Strapless Armour” and album closer “Barefoot Charade,” which sees Pardue stretching upwards into a pretty falsetto as keyboardist Zach Burns plays a quiet piano line.
Opening track “Able Thinkers” is another highlight, starting off with some great “ooh-ooh” vocals that make me think weirdly of TV On The Radio before those Oasis-like guitars come blasting in, with a battalion of strings floating alongside. It’s probably the closest relative to the tracks on Regular Dreams, and it fares extremely well, as does jangly, busy tune “Backward Sunrise” that comes after.
“Strapless Armour” deserves another mention, as well, for its tense, on-edge arrangement and Michael Buttaccio and Matt Strickland’s keening/droning guitars, not to mention the tribal-sounding rhythms created by drummer Leah Cables and bassist Gard Parkinson.
The one misstep here is “Men on Mars,” which is nicely swooning and romantic but unfortunately comes off a bit anemic in comparison to the rest of the album. It’s fine musically, but just misplaced, and when it hits it pulls the rest of the album down, unfortunately.
But heck, one track out of eight’s no bad ratio, and like I said, Life Apart has grown on me quite a bit in spite of it; it may not have been where I thought the band was headed, but it’s turned out to be a pretty great destination all the same.