I caught on to the band Guillemots after the release of their second album, and became curious as word spread last summer that they would start composing and recording a third album. So, it caught me by total surprise when I discovered that Fyfe Dangerfield (guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist) released his debut solo album, “Fly Yellow Moon” (18 January 2010 in the UK, available as an import in the USA as of 26 January 2010). If anyone has not heard of this yet and has gotten nervous that Guillemots is no more, rest assured, they are still releasing a third album. Fyfe Dangerfield, who loves to keep himself busy (with his band, now solo career, and few other collaborations/projects), offers up much of what may be expected from a Guillemots’ release, but also flirts with ideas that he has not in his previous works. This is a quirky album, as quirky as the fact that Dangerfield is right-handed but plays guitar left-handed.
These are highly crafted songs, with a meticulous attention to details. Considering how they were recorded, it makes the songs even more amazing. The album was recorded in under a week, and though the production quality is minimal for the most part, Bernard Butler (of Suede fame) lends his ear to the production process. What you get here are songs that speak for themselves with raw intensity. You can easily divide the songs on this album into two broad categories: the acoustic ballads and the grand pop songs. (This is one of the great things about the album; it does not stick to a pattern or genre, and even within the two broad categories, there is vast diversity.)
The namesake of the album appears in “So Brand New”: “Fly yellow moon, you put the smile back on my face…” In comparison to the other acoustic songs on the album, this is the darkest sounding one, arguably the most introspective. And of course, my favorite moment in the song is the literary reference: “Once I was livid, once I was in hate, once I was Lear on the rocks.” But my favorite acoustic moment is “Livewire.” With minimal rhythm and melodic sections, the song is basically sung to a simple, but beautiful guitar arrangement. Full of little insights into the world we live in (“Good Samaritans never play their part…”) and a constant playing with words/meaning (“We got everything to play for, 1-1, half time…”), this is one of those endearing songs that may not wow you away, but will definitely pull at your heartstrings.
As for the grand pop songs, the album opens with one such song: “When You Walk in the Room.” The opening beat makes you think for a second, “Are we going electropop here?” The excitement (or fear) of that possibility is assuaged immediately as the piano kicks in, and he takes a defiance stance: “In this moment, no one is pulling me into the ground…” And later, “I can’t help it if I’m happy…” And I could not help but smile. Think about it: we are living in an era where most “serious” musicians are constantly feigning anxiety, depression, and emotionally laden lyrics that make you think, “Dude, Zoloft.” But typical of Dangerfield, who likes to throw out the rulebooks, this song is blatantly honest of an emotional reality most musicians will not touch: feeling happy, being on cloud nine, especially when indulging in that feeling of “I want you endlessly.” It is amazing when a pop song can be such a mantra.
The lead single, “She Needs Me,” comes towards the end of the album, and is one of those tracks that is so absorbing, you simply forget about everything that came before it. This is the best out-and-out pop song so far this year! With big string arrangements, dramatically emotive vocals, a haunting piano, and a steady beat worthy of inspiring dancing, what makes this song such a standout in the recent scene of pop music is that it is anything but 80s. Fyfe Dangerfield does not jump the bandwagon, and could you expect any less from him? You will think more of 70s pop than new wave or 80s pop.
No, “Fly Yellow Moon” is not a guilty pleasure (just ask my neighbors who have had to endure several hours of my blasting the album over and over). You may not get Fyfe Dangerfield at his most experimental, but you do get Fyfe Dangerfield at his most raw, with his constant solid craftsmanship. My advice: take a break from all the 80s influenced indie and the anxiety-feigning guitarists, and fly yourself to this yellow moon and enjoy the ride.
1. When You Walk in the Room
2. So Brand New
4. High on the Tide
5. Faster Than the Setting Sun
8. She Needs Me
9. Don’t Be Shy
10. Any Direction
Keep up with Fyfe Dangerfield at his homepage (check out the Drawings section!), MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is the video for “She Needs Me” from his YouTube Channel: fyfedangerfield.