Fallon Cush – April (2012)

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.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Fallon Cush's self-titled debut -- "nifty and polished," we said -- made Something Else! Reviews' year-ending list of favorite unsigned acts for 2011.]

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.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.