One way to classify albums is by time of year. Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted always sounds like mid-July. Songs of Leonard Cohen is perpetual November. Another way to classify records is by time of day. Bob Dylan’s New Morning, appropriately enough, sounds best around 9 a.m. The Stooges’ Fun House sounds best around midnight.
Fare Thee Well, the new album by Reno folk band Last to Leave, nails the feeling of 6:30 p.m. on a Friday in late August. The sun is low in the sky, the weather’s starting to cool down, a bunch of friends are sitting on somebody’s back porch, picking out tunes, drinking spiked lemonade. There’s a bittersweet quality to these songs—the feeling that summer’s almost over, so enjoy it while it lasts. It’s that feeling of being a couple of drinks in, where you feel warm and happy, and you haven’t done anything regrettable yet, but you feel yourself moving in that direction.
The music has an agreeable homemade quality. It feels a little loose. Some of the mixes don’t sound quite right—like they aimed for spacious but landed on hollow—and there’s a ramshackle quality to some of the playing. But these rough edges actually enhance the songwriting in a way a more polished sound wouldn’t.
Many of the lyrics are about travel. “I’ve driven more hours than anyone I know, and I’ve seen so many things. Everyone sings about never coming home, but home is the place for me” is a good bit from the album opener, “Roll Away.”
“One of Those Long Name Traveling Songs” has one of the best count-ins this side of Springsteen. Then, over bouncy bass, mandolin and banjo, and plaintive saxophone, vocalists Luke Knudsen and Skye Evans trade lyrics, sometimes singing remarkably quickly, other times slowing down to emphasize the melody.
Though some of the lyrics are a little angsty, the singing is never aggressive or punk, nor is it some smile-while-you-sing “Kumbaya” nonsense. Instead, the voices have a relaxed, almost neutral quality that fits the bittersweet music and lyrics.
The instruments move with locomotive energy, but the songs never go off the tracks. And the songwriting is excellent. Here’s another memorable couplet: “Do you remember when I last wrote to you? I said some things I can’t recall, but it all was true.”
“Epic” is the operative adjective for Knightfall, a local metal band that veers toward Scandinavian-style symphonic black metal. Melancholy keyboards open the band’s new record, Heavy Metal Revival, which builds up to monstrous guitar riffs, rapid-fire drums, and vocals that sound like a Viking warrior amped for battle.
There’s a lot of movie soundtrack-style sweep, scope and grandeur to the music, and songs like “Upon Your Grave” and “Mars 9” have thrilling, nail-biting guitar solos, where it sounds like something important, like the future of Middle Earth, is at stake—saving realms through fretboard wizardry.
Music with this much drama might sound cheesy to some ears, but there’s enough classical sophistication to lure in attentive listeners, who will be led on a mythic journey, through foreboding, menacing, terrifying wildernesses to moments of triumph and glory.