Fallon Cush takes a darker, more contemplative turn with April, after the fizzy power pop of its self-titled 2011 debut.
That difference in tone is readily apparent from the first, as the opener “It’s a Line” jangles out with a classically Lennon-ish whine – and a similarly insouciant attitude. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Steve Smith again handles the main vocals, with Lily Dior shading the choruses with a delicate, barely heard sweetness.
From there, Fallon Cush continues in this largely downbeat fashion, examining the scattered pieces of a relationship across 11 new tracks mastered by Greg Calbi (Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon) at Sterling Sound in New York City.
“Forever After,” with a country-inflected sound straight out of America or early Eagles, initially finds intertwining guitars paired with a murmuring organ from Scott Aplin. Smith eventually ramps up into a lonely little groove, nearly approximating the muscled hooks Fallon Cush, only to quickly slump back into the track’s initial loping sadness. A broken romanticism shoots through “Honey Honey,” which might have been a Wings-era Paul McCartney love song on another album. Here, though, guitarist Glen Hannah’s ringing solo plays with a billowing sorrow – underscoring the over-arching theme of separation and disquiet surrounding April. There are hopes – dashed, it sounds like – for reconciliation on “In the Nick of Time,” a lithely grooved country rocker.
Fallon Cush haven’t completely abandoned their previous musical persona: Smith gathers himself for the anthematic sweep of “Where Your Name is Carved,” again aspiring to the perfectly constructed narratives associated with Elton John in the mid-1970s. Still, whatever dreams he’d had of working things out have turned to ash. Songs like “Sight to Remember,” a heart-breaking bit of nostalgia, make it clear that things will never be the same – a jarring realization made real by the track’s interesting stop-start tempo, courtesy of a rhythm section that includes Josh Schuberth and Chris Vallejo.
In this darkening twilight, a song like “When You Say” – which rambles along at a more spritely pace – might sound emotionally out of sync, in a lesser band’s hands. Here, it fits in just right, like a wild night on the town from someone trying to forget what’s really bothering him. The rollicking “Renegade Blues” – which takes place later on the same oat-sowing evening, I suppose – is propelled by a frisky combining of protest-folk pacing, a piercing guitar that could peel paint off a barn, and a hard-eyed vocal. And then? It’s gone, as Fallon Cush are next seen – literally – washing down the walls with turpentine in an effort to excise any lingering signs of a girl long gone.
If the previous two tunes represented the boisterous misadventures of a devastated lover on an angry binge, the endless-midnight of “Every Waking Hour” takes you to the bottom of that brown bottle – to the quiet, empty place that he’s inevitably surrounded by the next morning. “Frank and Margaret” arrives then, like a fever dream, with this Dylan-ish song structure – told in a third-person narrative – that snaps the listener awake from what had become a confidentially engrossing journey. Still, truth be told, whether personal or created out of thin air, the stories aren’t all the much different.
More interestingly, Fallon Cush has suddenly leapt onto a locomotive Americana groove – and it heralds a nearly complete return to hooky form through the final moments of April. “Sleeping Giant,” with a melancholic beauty that recalls Crowded House, brings the album to a ringing, beatific close. But not before Fallon Cush constructs perhaps the finest blending yet of these Americana influences with their innate sense of power pop style.