Farrar & Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone

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Respectively the leaders of Son Volt and Death Cab for Cutie, my interest was piqued when I learned they were providing the music for the soundtrack of a movie about Jack Kerouac's Big Sur.  As it turns out, only a couple songs are featured in the movie, but the artists enjoyed the project so much that they created the remaining songs.

Big Sur, to begin with, is a lightly developed region on the California coast (I didn't know there was one left), where the mountains rise abruptly Big Surfrom the sea.  It's seen a diversity of interest from mining, to bohemian, to camping, to... whatever it is today.  Scenic, I guess.

Kerouac spent a short time there visiting a friend.  To be fair, I haven't read much of Kerouac, and I knew little of him other than he was considered a "beat poet."  A little research later, and I find out that he wasn't as much a part of the "happening" scene as I imagined.  Big Sur was considered his last great work, but much of the respect comes not from great revelations or carefully crafted prose, but from his honesty in revealing his experience about pain, suffering, alcoholism, mid-life, etc., the type stuff frequently credited as the fuel  for a creative spirit.  I doubt I'll read the book.

What, then, of the music?

Jay Farrar wrote 11 of the 12 songs, the lyrics of which are lifted from either Kerouac's book or from his included poem, "Sea," which closes the work. Fair enough.  Farrar's musical style is generally categorized as alt-country, which might be translated as twangy but with intelligent lyrics.  There's a lot of pedal steel, some slide guitar, and, though not on on this CD, a heavy guitar riff.  He has a rather narrow vocal Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard - One Fast Move or I'm Gonerange which he uses in a tone that sounds downcast, well suited for introspective lyrics.   He seems a good fit for Kerouac's material.

Gibbard, on the other hand, is a gifted writer and has a voice that, while again limited in range, is brighter and rings clearly.  His songs tend to include narratives, with an approachable song structure that leans lands somewhere between "indie" and pop. 

Yin and Yang.

The CD begins with a breezy "California Zephyr," sung by Gibbard and which provides an optimistic opening for what might unfold as the CD progresses. But not so fast.  Ferrar counters immediately with "Low Life Kingdom," with a lyric that finds the threat behind nature while observing its beauty.  It's presented in a depressing tone - though fitting for the song. 

A snippet:

Settling down with warm-glow woodstove and kerosene peace you're looking for, peace you'll find in the tangled mad cliff-sides and crashing dark of big sur

Rapturous ring of silence pacific fury flashing on the rocks, the sea shroud towers the innocence of health and stillness in the wild of big sur

Third up is "Williamine," a song questioning beauty and love.  With Gibbard back on vocals, it remains hopeful.

Only interested in the sad music the voice of Williamine, she makes men sigh and women wonder where is all the beauty coming from? And why?

And so it goes.  Gibbard's single entry, the title track, sounds okay, but after half a minute, you realize that he fit his lyric to the same plodding beat and tune that has become so tiresome with his own band.

Overall, this is well articulated (though including the lyrics would have made for a nicer tribute), and it probably works best for fans seriously into either artist.  I'm likely to watch the movie out of curiosity, at the least.  That said, situated on the shoulders of a "literary great," one might expect that the songs would demand concentration. However, once fully explored, repeated listenings quickly fade into the type of background music that suits one well when focusing on other things. 

Suggested Tracks: "California Zephyr," "Breathe Our Iodine," "These Roads Don't Move"

Rating: 3 Stars out of 5

 

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