FARM, GRAY BIRDS
by Casey Rea, Seven Days
St. Albans will probably never be known as a fount of quality indie-rock, but local boys Farm are making music as though that were indeed the case. I gave their debut CD (released under the short-lived moniker House Horse) a pretty positive review a year or two ago, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating its follow-up, Gray Birds. I’m pleased to say it doesn’t disappoint.
To call Farm indie-rock is a bit like saying Led Zeppelin is just a cock-rock band. While the two acts don’t exactly sound alike, both showcase a wide range of influences. In Zep’s case, it’s American blues, British Isles folk and the Devil. Actually, the same could be said of Farm, if you substitute acoustic Tolkien-isms for Appalachian anguish. But guitarist Ben Maddox does rip like Jimmy Page from time to time.
Gray Birds boasts a whopping 18 tracks, which makes it tough to sum up in this wee space. Let’s start with the basics: Each member of the band is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. This kind of situation can engender creativity, but sometimes affects a band’s cohesiveness. That’s not the case here. Members Maddox, Jedd Kettler and Joshua Givens share a similar musical outlook, which results in some spooky-ass Americana that’s unpretentiously rural yet musically sophisticated. Read on for the highlights.
Kettler’s sooty ditty “Boomtown Basement” plays like a Stones number from that band’s country-blues period. Maddox’s Mellotron strings create a lovely sonic pillow for Kettler’s gruffly melodic vocals. Note to geeks: These keys are likely a synth emulation of the cumbersome, tape-operated instrument popularized by The Beatles and King Crimson. Real Mellotrons cost more than some houses, and they weigh nearly as much.
I also quite like Givens’ “Spineless,” which opens with dark, odd-metered chords and eerie slide guitar. The drums are slightly trashy, which gives the tune a ragged majesty. Maddox’s guitar solo is patient and modally adventurous, with weird ghost bends and trills.
“Something I Drew” is a twisted little blues tune with gurgling synth tones and laconic vocals, while “Devil” (see, I told you he’d make an appearance) is a black-as-pitch ode to a soul in the grips of evil that literally gave me goosebumps. As did quite a few of the other tunes, including the molasses-thick “Old City” and the spacey, Eastern-flavored jam “St. Albans Blues.” The latter track alone is well worth the price of the disc.
Farm are a unique band with one foot in roughshod rock ’n’ roll and the other in experimental folk-blues. The third foot, if they had one, would surely be in the grave.
review in the February 2008 edition of Boston rock magazine, The Noise
Hailing from Enosburg Falls, Vermont, Farm clearly seems to be a product of their environment. The echoed guitars and sparse yet intricate arrangements on the bands stellar record, Gray Birds, clearly come from an atmospheric backdrop that Vermont would seemingly award the three-piece perfectly. Call it what you want, be it freak-folk, indie rock or just folk music with an experimental slant, it all applies. The record skillfully meshes folk, country, classic rock and jam music into their own twisted musical animal. There's a real unified sound on the record, no easy feat when the band, multi-instrumentalists Ben Maddox, Jed Kettler and Joshua Givens, all share songwriting duties. Oh, and did I mention they switch instruments with one another from track to track?
Calling Gray Birds arguably one of the best records you've likely never heard isn't a stretch. As far as highlights go, check out "Mance," "Devil," or just take it all in. At close to an hour and fifteen minutes, it's a lot to absorb, but oh so worth it if you give it a chance. (Ryan Bray)
burlington free press late-dec. 2007
farm — Gray Birds: These three guys from Franklin County lead one of this year's most-talked-about local bands. Here's why: "Gray Birds" filters in and out of Neil Young-ish Americana, low-fi indie-pop and flat-out rock with a style (demonstrated over a sprawling 18-song, 75-minute disc) that's always cohesive, never cobbled-together.
Northeast Performer Magazine
Farm - Gray Birds
Recorded at the Dojo, in St. Albans, VT
Produced by Farm
Engineered by Ben Maddox.
One thing this experimental folk rock trio possesses beyond their obvious talent, is patience — a rare attribute in our 2:45 second, cluster-fucked MTV generation. Farm has a clear vision of how their songs want to sound, and exhibit an impressive level of restraint in their songwriting and arrangements. Gray Birds‘ compositions ebb and flow with mellow sincerity as they gently sail through simple song forms. Supporting the tunes are inventive arrangements that augment each song’s acoustic core. In “Boomtown Basement” the band meanders through the song’s sparse instrumentation, steadily building the sonic foundation for the lush vocal harmonies that eventually enter. When the song comes together, the results are wondrous and unexpected.
An interesting aspect to this band is that each band member plays every instrument and each takes on lead vocal duties. If their individual vocal qualities weren’t so endearing, this could lead to problems. But Jedd Kettler (“Old City”) sounds like a young Bruce Springsteen, Ben Maddox (“Bad Oasis”) has a timbre akin to Lou Reed and a little bit of Bono, and Joshua Givens (“You Can’t Be The Dog”) has a soulful cry like Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum fame (remember them?). When harmonizing with each other, though, the end result is a lush, unified voice.
But does this multiplicity of lead singers and polygamous instrumental interaction reduce the effect of Gray Birds? Are we missing an identifiable soulful creature to latch onto? No, all voices are endearing and quickly embraceable. The only downside to the album is its length. With so many songs, it’s a tough album to devour. Luckily, Farm’s best strength is consistency, and thanks to their musical restraint and complex arrangements, Gray Birds is the kind of album that exponentially rewards listeners patient enough to give it the time of day. (Self-released)
Dan Bolles show blurb before 'Gray Birds' release
Batman has the Bat-cave, Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, and in St. Albans (actual slogan: "Maple Sugar Capital of the World") Americana-noir anti-heroes Farm have the Cave of Legends, otherwise known as their basement. Though it doesn't have Kryptonian hi-def crystal holograms, a tricked-out 1965 Lincoln Futura with a jet engine exhaust or —I'm guessing — a fatherly English butler, it was the birthplace of one of the best local albums to hit the streets in a long time.
Recorded over seven months, one instrument at a time, Grey Birds is indie-folk of the most spine-chilling variety. If nightmarish illustrator Edward Gorey could have drunk a case of beer and fronted Camper van Beethoven, it would probably have sounded a lot like Farm's new album — assuming Gorey could sing, of course.
This Thursday, the trio unveils the new disc at the Monkey House in Winooski (working slogan: "Home of the World's Goofiest Rotary!"). If you go, you might want to take the bus.
Friday, July 27, 2007
introducing my new favorite band: drums: etc...
Farm put on an excellent show at the monkey last night. nimbly switching between instruments, the three members invoked everything from ballsy blues to late 60's psychedelic guitar rock. haven't been this unexpectedly impressed by a local band since the first time i saw the cripples. if you're a fan of anything from the band to wilco to the white stripes i recommend you check out any of farms several shows in the next few weeks. ....
from Saint Albans Messenger article by Leon Thompson, Monday, 09 July 2007
'Farm' grows musically
Local trio releases 'Gray Birds' album
ENOSBURG FALLS –– When critiquing new bands, music reviewers often drop familiar names (ex: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd), to give listeners and readers a sense of who the new group sounds like.
Well, they compare to …
And that's a good thing.
Farm's members – Ben Maddox, of Enosburg; Jedd Kettler, of St. Albans; and Joshua Givens, of Winooski – just released their first, full-length album, "Gray Birds," an 18-song set of sometimes spooky, always super, easily addictive music.
Farm will showcase songs from "Gray Birds" during a free concert inside Maddox's store, The Flying Disc, at 3 p.m. Sunday, in Enosburg Falls. Cornwall-based Dirtminers are also on the bill.
"I feel better about this album than I have about a lot of other things I've worked on," said Kettler, 36, seated Thursday in The Flying Disc basement.
"We put a lot of work and attention into this," Kettler said.
On its MySpace site, Farm bills itself as "three two-handed men (who) write songs and play them."
Already, Farm might have made regional music history as the only rock band to fully record and mix not one but two albums on St. Albans City's Main Street – right between the old post office and Kevin Smith's Sports Connection.
Before Maddox moved The Flying Disc from St. Albans to Enosburg, he transformed a tight, back room at the store into a recording studio.
With that arrangement, Farm avoided hundreds of dollars in studio-rental costs; lists of orders from engineers and producers; and other external pressures that break bands as fast as they're made.
Farm called its own shots by making "Gray Birds" on Main Street.
"If you're not in a studio and pressed for time," said Maddox, 32, "you can do as much as you want."
Of all the band configurations that exist, rock trios might be the easiest to manage musically, and financially. Historically, they're also the most volatile, and short-lived. Think Cream. Or The Police.
In Farm, however, there is no Andy Summers or Stewart Copeland who is jealous of Sting. Watch Maddox and Kettler interact, and it's evident they are proud of each other, their band, and their music. No in-fights allowed.
"We don't fight at all," Maddox said. "There are definitely disagreements, but we usually work through them quickly."
Farm happened like an unexpected baby in a family that welcomes it. There was no formal thinking or planning, but it happened, and it has filled its creators with joy.
A few years ago, Givens, a 30-year-old painter behind the stunning album artwork on "Gray Birds," was making four-track recordings with Kettler. The two had met at Kettler's former St. Albans coffee shop and bookstore, The Kept Writer.
Maddox moved to Vermont from Mississippi, opened The Flying Disc, and helped Kettler move out of his store when it closed in February 2005. They shared a common passion.
"You play music," Kettler told Maddox. "I play music. Wanna jam?"
Givens joined. Every Saturday – sometimes Sunday – they played in the rear of The Flying Disc. In two years, they only missed about 10 weekends. Weddings, funerals and illness were the only excuse to miss a session.
"Pretty early on, we ended the jams saying, 'See you next week,'" Kettler recalled. "There was no question you were going to come back."
They each brought original songs to the table. By spring 2005, they desired gigs. They needed a demo.
Using free software, guidance from Internet forums, and any accessible equipment, the band released its first, five-song EP, "House Horse," which was Farm's first moniker.
"They were just two words we thought sounded good together," Kettler said.
"Then people kept asking if we were the 'House Whores,'" Maddox added. "Then there was this idea that we were the house band, like we could play classic rock all night."
"So we changed the name," Kettler said, "because of the connotations that came with the other one."
First, they toyed with Ghost Farm. Then, the Dirt Farmers (already taken). Kettler felt they were trying too hard.
"What about just … Farm?" he asked Maddox and Givens. "I'd be happy with just … Farm."
Too simple? Maybe. Kettler, however, has tacked a thoughtful meaning onto his band's name.
"On a farm," he explained, "everyone has to know all the components of it to make it work, and work successfully."
The same goes for this Farm. Its members are all multi-instrumentalists who share vocal and songwriting duties – well.
"I think it's a drag to have to sit there and play guitar on every song, all the time," Maddox said. "It's nice to break it up some."
In the last two years, Farm has played 26 shows in Vermont and New York, but only one locally: at the St. Albans Community Park Sale last year.
"There's no original music allowed in St. Albans, man," Maddox joked, with a faux stoner voice. "There's an ordinance, you know."
Farm broke from playing live, returned to the rear of The Flying Disc in May 2006, and began work on "Gray Birds"; they released it last month.
Kettler said Farm started the sessions with an arsenal of 30 songs, ready for recording. Initially, they discussed making "Gray Birds" a double album but concluded that was self-indulgent for a debut.
"Gray Birds" is split into two sections – "First" and "Second" – and they are distinct, but it's not a concept album.
"We're not that smart," Maddox quipped.
"Spineless" and "Devil" are among Maddox's favorite tracks on "Gray Birds." Kettler likes "Street Lights" and "Bad Oasis." For Givens, it's "Here It Is" – the short, quirky opener – and "St. Albans Blues."
Other listeners might latch on to "Boomtown Basement" – Kettler's stick-with-you tribute to delta blues finger picking – the solemn "Mance," or the chuckle-inducing "You Can't Be the Dog."
"Gray Birds" has garnered great reviews, which pleases Givens.
"It gives us confidence and inspiration," he said. "I'm super proud of this. It's a really good portrait of us from when we first started playing until now. I think we got across what we wanted to get across."
Soon, Farm will retreat to The Flying Disc basement in Enosburg and work on a new, 10-track album. Only this time? No break from playing live.
"And we're just going to work on being a better band," Maddox said.