Being in a band with fans must be hard. Most of said devotees weren’t there to lend support in those all-important formative years, but are still keen to feed off the burgeoning cred that is complicit with liking said band. Which is annoying, if that’s the kind of thing that raises your hackles. Another faction don’t care so much about their status in a musical community, but have no interest in buying records. And yet another portion of fandom never, ever allow you to forget that you were in that band, even when it’s been laid to rest. This last lot can’t seem to figure out that maybe, the wishes of the dead are just to be left interred.
For the uninitiated (which I don’t imagine is too many of you, but nevertheless), Geoff Farina was the guitarist and frontman of a band called Karate, whose cohesive marriage of spiky emocore to fluid jazz won them a whole host of fans, if not a massive net profit. And on delving into The Wishes Of The Dead, his first solo release, it’s easy to discover whether or not you’re that last type of fan.
The Wishes Of The Dead, and indeed Farina himself, are so distanced from Karate, and arguably modern rock music in its entirety, that there’s very little enjoyment-by-association to be had from the record’s ten folksy cuts. Farina has effectively wiped his slate clean, in terms of prospective followers, and that he spends a significant amount of his time lecturing in music history (particularly bluegrass and blues) at DePaul university makes perfect sense on listening to The Wishes Of The Dead. Flagship song ‘Hammer and Spade’ exemplifies the record’s best moments, deftly-picked folk beneath Farina’s now-husky voice, a tale of pastoral New England. ‘Stems’, likewise, plays out like a condensed history of folk, from Nick Drake up to American successor Elliott Smith, whose ghost is channeled in the song’s shivering tremolo.
Whilst Farina’s consummate musicianship can’t ever be in any doubt, and there’s nothing wrong at base with his stringent, academic grounding in musical history, there are occasions when the The Wishes Of The Dead’s allegiance to its more elderly precursors works to its detriment. Farina’s attempts to place his usual oblique wordplay side by side with the linear narratives more often associated with folk and blues can work, as on opener ‘Prick Up Your Ears’, in which Farina makes the tongue-twisting ‘marquees mark each diocese’ lead perfectly into a phrase as simple and affecting as ‘someday baby, you ain’t gonna worry my mind no more’. Sometimes, however, his attempts at jamming busy wordsmithery into a more traditional format can be jarring. At the other end of the record and scale, ‘Semantics’ finds itself falling foul of overabundant rhyme, alliteration and assonance, to the point where the whole thing sounds twee and contrived.
When ‘Scotch Snaps’ begins with ‘blow me a hornpipe or highland fling’, it’s easy, as a young Karate fan largely uninterested in ‘folios of decaying ragtime’, to feel alienated. Why should it feel retrogressive to cling to Farina’s past, especially as he’s reached so firmly into history himself in shaping The Wishes Of The Dead? The unassuming nature of the record warrants a more balanced assessment. With his debut solo effort Geoff Farina has, intentionally or otherwise, distanced himself from the distinct facets of his Alma Mater’s sound. Whether this is a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad thing’ depends on your point of view, but much like The Wishes Of The Dead itself, the decision doesn’t feel like a forced, purposeful, or conscious reinvention. Rather, it seems a wholly relaxed and natural development, meaning that The Wishes Of The Dead, whilst resolutely backwards-looking and occasionally a touch clumsy in its sentiment, rests comfortable and worthy in both the folk and Farina canons.
via The 405