Album Review: Farewell Continental – “¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!”

Finally released in May 2011, “¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!” marks the debut full-length from Farewell Continental, which we can at last officially refer to as a side project featuring Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack (the band’s members had previously all gone by character names from Harrison Ford movies). Musically, “¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!”  picks up where “EP#2” left off, though the vocals are a little less “doom and gloom.” It proudly pushes Farewell Continental’s trademark futuristic, indie rock sound a little further without reinventing the wheel in the process. They continue to put a modern spin on classic early 90’s indie rock (think Pavement or Dinosaur Jr or Flaming Lips only good). “Pioneers!” also finds tongue planted firmly in cheek, fully realizing the obvious comparisons to the music of fifteen years ago.

“Seasoned Veterans,” the album’s opening track, is a basic FC song, albeit too short. The song seems to finally get up to speed when the “hope for the hopeless” line is introduced, but from there it only carries for a few more seconds before cutting off, resulting in a song that comes across as rather unfinished.  “Capybara” comes next, and does little to vary the sound. This song introduces what will be a common theme for most of the remainder of the album: Pierre and co-lead vocalist Kari Gray trading verses (or even trading lines in some places) over and avant-garde guitar-driven indie-pop melody. When done well, the resulting product really shines. When Gray’s voice is forced to become the center of attention amid scaled-down music, however, the songs do pay the price. Her voice (which has gotten noticeably stronger from since the band’s first two EPs) at times suffers from being reined in: when the songs trend more toward spoken-word, her voice isn’t given a chance to shine, which it is more than capable of doing when she is allowed to really belt out. “Capybara” is an excellent example of  Gray’s voice used appropriately.

“Who’s The Boss?” is a  (dare I say “cute”?) back-and-forth exchange between Gray and Pierre over a catchy guitar hook that resurfaces throughout. Another song that is a couple minutes too short. “The Greatest of All Time (How You Feelin’ Now?)” features another simple yet hypnotic guitar hook. It is also one of those times where Gray’s voice hits a lower register (that is not its strong side) during the verses that is not its strong side. “Dagger, Dagger: Terror, Terror” is propelled forward by an overdriven bass groove backed up by feedback-heavy guitar and understated synthesizer. This is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “A Story From The Bottom Of The Sea” features Pierre singing with much more of a baritone croon than listeners may be used to (or comfortable with). Harmonically it could pass for Death Cab For Cutie. Not a bad song , but not a standout.

“Immolated” is hands-down my favorite song on the album. It plays as a well-crafted, mid-90’s indie (post-shoegaze?) rock song, and its chorus (“I never called you a liar / I’ll never set you on fire”) is a thing of beauty. The Germans refer to this type of chorus as an ohrwurm, and for good reason. “New Tile Floor” is another standout, this one dominated by an electronic drum track, the likes of which normally makes my skin crawl. For whatever reason, it really works on this track, and the chorus is delicate and haunting at the same time. “Radio, Radio: Are You Getting This?” is about “the sense of entitlement every stupid fuckshow on the planet thinks they have,” and features a guest-DJ making seemingly derogatory remarks about the band getting together and thinking “I want to do something that’s been done before…a million times.” As I said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

“The Explorer Settles Down” is probably the most 90’s-sounding of the bunch. Also, it features strings and lasers (or maybe photons, or at least guitars distorted to sound like lasers and/or photons, which is still cool). “Mad Operator” is dominated by Gray’s voice more than any other track, and works well. Same FC formula with the abrupt ending that plagues more than one track on the album. Also, more lasers! “I Feel Everything (Can You Feel It As Well)” starts with a sort of jungle boogie vibe, and contains a lot of noise. This is a great song to listen to with headphones on, as it allows you a better chance to absorb everything that is going on. “The Reflecting Skin” is not a standout track, at least until the chorus which is actually quite beautifully crafted and atmospheric. “Tiger Claw” closes the album much like Pavement would. Pierre’s verses are barely more than spoken-word.

The obvious mid-90’s indie rock comparisons that Farewell Continental garners are all valid, but for those of us with a soft spot for that “sound,” that isn’t a bad thing by any stretch. And FC do enough to add their own elements to the mix to keep the album from sounding too derivative of any one band. The only thing that would make this album better (aside from the occasional change of tempo, which would keep the listener from getting confused as to which track was actually playing) would involve making a few of the songs allowing the “noise” element to really take over. That said, “¡Hey, Hey Pioneers!”is a pretty solid rock album from start to finish.

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