By Josh Terzino
I said in a post recently that I find it funny when a band or artist sends in their material for review (which I am grateful for) and leaves a note saying that they’re this or that. I like it best when a band says that they’re big influences were majorly epic records. With Fort Frances, and their new record The Atlas, that influence was Wilco, with an emphasis on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
It’s way funnier when a band is way off. On The Atlas, Fort Frances does make a real connection with some aspects of YHF. Mainly I find it in the quiet spaces between the folk-pop verses and somewhat Beatles-esque refrains. There’s a good deal of sonic dissonance at work in the background almost always.
With Sam Kassirer behind the knobs and the keys, it’s no surprise that a lot of the songs keep in line with the folkiness of Sam’s major collaborator (and one of my personal favorites of all-time) Josh Ritter. There’s even a moment during “If The Ocean Runs Dry” that reminds me so much of Ritter’s “Wait For Love” that I forgot which album I was hearing.
That combination of Wilco and Josh Ritter actually reminds me of another band, one that I think is a more fitting comparison to Fort Frances. Minneapolis-based alt-country legends The Jayhawks perfected a lot of what this album shoots for years ago with their album Rainy Day Music (a perfect fit for the weather as I write this).
The Atlas is definitely more pop than Rainy Day, but I think they share a lot of common musical influences. Fort Frances singer David McMillin has a voice that isn’t entirely reminiscent of Gary Louris or Mark Olson, but in the harmonies and overdubs, there’s definitely a sonic similarity.
I’ve listened to The Atlas a bunch of times now, and my overall impression is that I like it. There’s a lot going on at every turn it takes, eventually leading each song to the same point. Aaron Kiser does a great job of keeping everything moving forward, and Jeff Piper on bass is on point in every song.
Standout songs from the record are “The Ghosts of California” and “Falling Down.”
“Ghosts” is, perhaps, the simplest song on The Atlas. But, in it’s simplicity, it also contains a lot of honesty and longing:
Build us a home made for heroes
Build us a boat to find the stars
Watch the hillsides burn, the saddest kind of sunset
Now the tide is crying, now we can’t escape these scars
“Falling Down” would be the most radio-friendly song on the album. It’s kind of a hybrid of the better stuff Coldplay does and David Gray. If you download and dig the album, this track would make a good introduction to play for your friends.
If The Atlas is anything, it’s a piece to be shared. It’s supposed to act as an actual atlas, with each song pointing to places that share a common directional threat. For what it’s worth, you don’t have to be conscious of this fact while you’re listening. The album works perfectly well on the surface. But, if you want to go deeper, you will be rewarded for paying attention.
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