Arrah & the Ferns
Evan is a Vegan
Going to Muncie for two years of high school and another semester of college has given me a great appreciation for the area. It's a little too large to be called a town and way too small for it to be called a city with any level of genuine sincerity. For most of the people who live in the area or just go to school there, fun is something that needs to be created. It's a Midwest thing. Arrah & the Ferns know this noble truth well. In creating their debut Evan is a Vegan, they have made great strides at making the Hoosier state well known musically for reasons other than Jacko and "Jack and Diane."
As their MySpace story goes, the band essentially formed on a random open mic night. Stories like this litter the landscape of the American music pscyhe and far too few come to fruition, but this is one that is going the distance. After introducing themselves on their debut with an intro track laced with noises taken straight from an epileptic daycare, "Preteens" bounces on by in under two minutes with a jovial sense of resistance. It is this unsettling yet enchanting vein of antipathy and frustration that appears to weave its way throughout the vasculature of Evan. Lovers duel with gently combative phrasings ("Skylark") and visceral threats ("Science Books"), but the songs themselves do not suffer from a lack of internal or external enjoyment. It says a lot if a song that involves cursory threats of arson and murder can also be a toe-tappingly good time. Actually, it says more than anyone can usually fathom. Wry humor is a virtue.
'Hey baby! Bundle up tight!
'The sun is high and bright, I'll grab that magnifying glass
'So you can die if you want you can do what you please
The raging yang of this album is encapsulated by those couplets. To hear the words rolling and jumping out of Arrah's mouth is all the more quirky. She has a voice that recalls Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame) and the abundant cute fluxes of Regina Spektor and Joanna Newsom. You get a sense that she's holding a little of her vocal range back at some points, but she's able to maneuver around and within the melodies like a prizefighter. When Carl Stovner jumps in with some of his own musings, the effect of the lyrics is not lost in the slightest. In fact, the dichotomy of the storied relationships to which we all become voyeurs is amplified if heard through both vessels. It is like hearing the Fiery Furnaces without all the pretension. More interplay between the two singers could even add more flavor to the pot in the future.
As far as the music itself, Arrah and her Ferns (Carl and Dave Segedy, who does a stand-up job on drums and recorder(!)) toss the classic elements of a band - guitar, drums, banjolin, and the ever-present wurlitzer - into some calamitously elegant arrangements. You can picture the trio sitting on the back porch of a country cabin jamming out whatever naturally-inspired chords come to mind. The truth is that they recorded the album in homes just like anyone else's and the intimacy and rawness comes out in spades. In no place does this aspect shine brighter than Evan's penultimate track "Southern Comfort." With Carl on lead vocals leading in to Arrah, the chords and notes are strummed and plucked with such care that the words begin to sound like they are cradling the melody until the ending string-laden swell.
This reviewer has rarely been so proud to be from Indiana. Muncie ties notwithstanding, Evan is a Vegan is an album that shows enormous promise. Given the nationwide attention being offered to Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, it would not be surprising for this band to catch on in due time, hopefully sooner rather than later. The only real downside to this album is its running time. At under 30 minutes, it passes by rapidly on its initial listen. You may wonder where it has gone once "Tokyo, Tokyo" finishes up, but it is such a remarkable listen that maybe its power comes in its tight packaging. Not a single phrase, groove, or note is allowed to go to waste. Arrah & the Ferns certainly have a bright future ahead of them. There will be plenty of time to hear more material with their next album. For now, this is one vegan dish that should agree with all of us.
Release date: August 8, 2006
Label: Standard Recording
Rating: 8.6 / 10
On the web: http://www.arrahandtheferns.com
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