So Grandaddy has finally gone to that golden armchair in the sky. What is a musician to do? If you’re Jim Fairchild, former guitarist of a recently deceased indie outfit and in need of a gig, why not release a debut solo album? With a little help from his friends, namely Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Danny Seim (Menomena), Solon Bixler (Great Northern), and Joe Plummer (Black Heart Procession) to provide beats, Mr. Fairchild has done just that. Ten Readings of a Warning maintains few of the earmarks of his once auspicious band, opting (for the most part) to make a beeline for the wide open fields of pastoral pop soundscapes.
Aside from the drumming, Fairchild is a veritable one man band. Be it strumming an acoustic guitar, shredding on an electric, or plunking away on the piano, his compositions never suffer from a lack of lush instrumentation. The vocals, on the other hand, may leave something to be desired. Halfway between the pained earnestness of Elliot Smith and the bittersweet yearning of Eric Johnson (Fruit Bats), Fairchild yet croons his heart out in spite of more obvious shortcomings.
Still, his limited range doesn’t detract from the organic offerings found on Warning. It’s first and foremost a guitar album, very much rooted in folk but built around driving acoustic rhythms and an intuitive grasp for placing brief electric freak-outs. “Summer Stay” strums easily through the first couple of minutes before a welcome electric guitar comes squelching from the wide blue like rapture riding the metallic breeze. It’s hummable, it’s strummable, it ain’t half bad. But all this would not be possible without a streamlined synth churning alongside the sparse piano and chorus of “whoas.”
“I’ll try and polish all the pain,” Fairchild muses on “Killing Sheep,” an unsuspecting melancholy seeping through the sheen of much brighter acoustic tones. “The Velvetest Balloon” relies on a bobbing piano line and a squealing synthesizer reminiscent of the electronic majesty of Grandaddy. Mostly it made me want to go spin The Sophtware Slump. “I Know It’s Wrong,” features a particularly dreamy vocal effect echoing the climactic final minutes of “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s The Pilot” from that aforementioned album. These few similarities remind the listener Fairchild hasn’t forsaken his old pappy, but is perhaps still searching for a sound to call his own.
So All Smiles isn’t the next Grandaddy, that’s a given. Maybe they’re not even the next Fruit Bats. But for a man with an eight-track recorder and few contributions from his friends, Jim Fairchild’s doing pretty well for himself. His grandpappy would be proud indeed.