Album Review: Fatherson – Open Book

8/10

Album Review: Fatherson - Open Book

There are so many exciting bands coming out of Scotland, it makes one to wonder if there is something in the water, or if the brooding majesty of the landscape simply cannot help but create great bands. Touted by many as the next great Scottish band, Fatherson are releasing their second album, “Open Book” on June 3rd. It follows their stellar debut, “I am an Island”, which yielded the singles, “I Like Not Knowing and Mine for Me.” This go round the gentlemen from Kilmarnock are aiming for the fences with big energy filled songs loaded with what the band describes as “people singing back to us” choruses. The songs are more accessible and steer away from the isolation of the first release, yet are still loaded with bittersweet melancholy.

The members of Fatherson have known each other since attending the Kilmarnock Academy as school mates. The trio is comprise of Ross Leighton on guitars and vocals, Marc Strain on bass and Greg Walkinshaw on drums. The band members were all of 14 when they decided to form their first manifestation, a band called “Energy!”. They learned their craft in small pubs and where ever they could ply their trade. In 2010 they renamed the band, Fatherson. Things have progressed nicely for the band with supporting gigs for the likes of Frightened Rabbit. Feeder, Panic! At the Disco and they were handpicked by Idlewild to open their 100 Broken Windows Anniversary tour. The experience of playing around other larger bands built the trio’s skill set and stretched their songwriting abilities. The band describes the experiences as forcing everything to be a bit more open and to pull no punches. 2014 saw the band self release their long play debut, “I am an Island” on a record label set up by management and independently financed. That album drew very positive critical attention and went to number 11 on the Scottish Album charts and number 5 on the ITunes Alternative charts. The band also won the support of BBC Radio 1 and the likes of Zane Lowe, Huw Stephens and Ally McCrae. Prior to this latest release the band was signed to Sony UK.

The close knit lengthy apprenticeship of the band allows them to sound like they are on their fourth or fifth release instead of their sophomore recording. The album is very well balanced and the musicianship seems effortless. The production is also crystal clear with no messing about. “Open Book” begins with “Just Past the Point of Breaking” which is a guitar jangle fest harkened to the inspirational guideposts of REM and The Smiths. The song is loaded with power and energy. It contains a big chorus and is very accessible. The lyrics are dealing with a relationship that seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and being forced to consider if it is salvageable or time to cut and run. “Did we miss the boat, are we just past the point of breaking.” The sustained energy of the song is a promising lead in for the rest of the album.

The next track “Always” continues the energy with a rumbling drum and chiming guitars. It is a bouncy toe tapper. Lead singer Ross Leighton effectively uses his falsetto to punctuate the song as he calls for action and not to overthink decisions, just do whatever it is and stop sitting making plans. This song is again extremely radio friendly and easy on the ears and will sound great live. “Lost Little Boys” completes the initial trilogy of power tunes on the release. Here the reverb intro cranking into a full band treatment. It is a large noise playing out over a mammoth soundscape. The drums are huge on this track. The song itself has a semi autobiographical feel with lyrics like, “We are lost little boys making a name for ourselves.” It is another excellent song.

With the track “Wondrous Heart” the band shifts down a gear. The song’s placement on the track list is inspired as it occurs just in time to keep the album from becoming too much of the same thing. This folk inflected song is loaded with lovely guitars and speaks to momentarily losing faith in goodness but realizing you have to take the goodness inside yourself and pay it forward. “Do you have a wondrous heart? Do you have the guts to tell me everything is wrong?” It is a nice change up in tempo and performed beautifully. “Joanna” is a stand out track on the album and another heartfelt ballad. The song displays someone who has let the perfect girl go and is loaded with regret at the confusion and wrong turns that led to that occurrence. The song is simple and yearning. Leighton’s vocals are totally convincing and draw the listener into the bittersweet feeling of this ballad. “Younger Days” is a real showcase of Leighton’s lyrics with just a piano as accompaniment. This soulful song is an introspective piece examining life and where it has been and where it leads. The phrase “If you see me dancing with no applause maybe it is curtains for me” is just sampling of the great lyrics in this piece.

The title song, “Open Book” switches up the tempo again. It is an extremely catchy song. There is a nice build up intro that leads to an explosive full band treatment. The subject matter is how we think we fool people projecting a false façade. The truth is that the ones who love us, know us and can read us like a book; they overlook imperfections and love us anyway. “I’m scared you’ll find out I am an open book with few pages.” It is another standout tune on the record. “Forest” is engaging because it takes a completely different direction from anything that precedes it on the release. It is a heavy feeling song with a cacophony of gritty guitar and bass. There are darker themes too, with the image of being lost in the forest, either real or imaginary, “Can you hear me calling in the forest… can you hear me screaming my lungs out.” This is a song that gets more and more interesting with each listen.

“Kids” is a lighter moment counterbalancing the heavy “Forest” with a tongue in cheek take that recalls childhood escapades. It continues on pointing out how each older generation things the younger generation is mad, “These kids are losing their minds!”. The track pokes fun at the “get off my lawn” mentality that comes with growing older. “Stop the Car” also deals with time and her tricks and the desire to stop time either out of fear or wanting to stay in the moment. It captures the desire you have when you are young to grow up and when you’re older wishing time would slow down. The song has significant bombast and will be amazing live.

“Sleeping Over” gets to the heart of the matter dealing with that period in a relationship when it is just starting to get more serious. Portrayed are all those cringe-worthy moments when your dealing with the morning after and making those all important decisions about the direction of a relationship. “We don’t even have a name yet…we are just sleeping over…maybe if the time was right we could graduate from only sleeping over.” The lyrics are an excellent execution of the concept. Final song “Chasing Ghosts” is a mid tempo ballad about witnessing someone drifting away from a relationship. The protagonist likens what is occurring to having to chase ghosts to keep things going. The guitar work on this song is of note and it is another engaging listen.

“Open Book” is a solid and consistently listenable release. It has a nice tempo throughout and is beautifully track-listed; never dwelling too long in one musical structure which keeps the release interesting and cohesive. Drama is projected into the songs but in a smooth and masterful way. Fatherson displays great potential with their seemingly effortless and skilled musicianship. At times it is hard to believe the three band members can fill the large soundscape they produce. There are also serious flashes of genius in the lyrics and their apt portrayal of characters working through damaged relationships and the march of time is inspired. The conclusion the listener is left with is another noteworthy band that needs to be added to the list of impressive Scottish bands, they are definitely a trio to watch!

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