All Smiles | Ten Readings of a Warning (Dangerbird)

cd_allsmilesUnlike Sumday by Grandaddy, Ten Readings of a Warning never found me reaching for the "skip" button. The songs are that good.





Try not to be put off by the fact that Jim Fairchild's debut solo effort is entitled Ten Readings of a Warning when you discover there are 11 tracks listed on the off-white cardstock CD case printed with ghostly images in palest lavender. The first song "Early Man" lasts a mere 36 seconds and comes across like a sound check with strums, jangles and "la, la, las." Take this time to pull out the insert and prepare to read along as Fairchild administers his ten warnings, beginning with track two. He sings, "With your feet down on the sand, plant the right one/ the left one gives you speed to stream from where you stood."

The place that guitarist Fairchild stood was with Grandaddy, the influential indietronic band that broke up in early 2006. Entitled "Summer Stay," this second track is the one that sounds the most Grandaddy-ish. But overall, Fairchild eschews the electronic experimentation of his former band. All Smiles' sound is refreshingly spare, with mainly either acoustic guitar or piano serving as the perfect compliment to Fairchild's clear vocals.

"Killing Sheep," the melancholy third song, isn't the least bit reminiscent of Fairchild's former band. Rather, the shuffling pace, guitar and mournful harmonies remind me of Elliot Smith. So does "Pile of Burning Leaves," especially the lyrics. "I know we're under the same moon," Fairchild confides, "it lights me up for days/ But the truth is, I need you not." What a devastating revelation, especially since such a reference to the moon is usually intended to sooth and assure. If you're looking for new candidates for your next Valentine's Day mix tape, move along. Love doesn't fare well on Ten Readings of a Warning. Still, the lyrics do return to themes of trying, reaching, searching, yearning, and doing things right this time.

Most of the album was recorded prior to Grandaddy's official breakup, while Fairchild was living in Portland. Fittingly, he assembled an impressive cadre of Northwest percussionists to help out on drums. Special guests include Solon Bixler (Great Northern), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, Magic Magicians, Black Heart Procession), Danny Seim (Lack Thereof, Menomena), and Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi). Fairchild played and sang just about everything else on the album, which was recorded almost entirely on eight-track and mixed by Brian Deck (Iron and Wine, Modest Mouse).

Now I'd like to give you a warning of my own. There is no demarcation between songs in the insert. Perhaps that's how All Smiles intends the CD to be experienced, not as 11 individual songs but as a single tale. Sometimes haunting, sometimes bleak. But in the end, as utterly satisfying as a novel that you cannot put down. Give yourself the chance to enjoy it as such, in one sitting. "The story's good with a little spinning," Fairchild promises. Trust him. Unlike Sumday by Grandaddy, Ten Readings of a Warning never found me reaching for the "skip" button. The songs are that good.

According to All Smiles' MySpace page, they're about "recognizing that there are a bunch of events and traditions that you become reliant on and are making you sick, and what is the way past that." One of those traditions may have been Fairchild's willingness to leave singing and songwriting to Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle. If so, he has definitely found the way past that. Note that the first word listed on the band's lyric insert is also one of the last: "Push." Perhaps that's all Fairchild needed, a push from the people who matter most to him to pick up the pen and the microphone, to believe in his voice and to let his songs be heard. A | Rebecca Reardon

RIYL: Elliot Smith, Modest Mouse, Great Northern, Earlimart

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