Fort Union – self-titled
I thought I had the wrong album, truthfully. The opening chord pattern played on an atmospheric synth without rhythm or resolution seems like it could go forever. But somehow, it segues into an arpeggiated guitar line, an understated drum beat, and a song gently asking if we will come with the singer, moving into a refrain of “I can.” It works. The devices used on many songs are similar; there is often a sequence of chords patterns that don’t quite resolve, and Jace Krause, the singer, has a way of delivering vocal lines steadily– the vocal melodies often move only in the half tones.
I asked for Fort Union’s album because I felt horrible about never being able to attract attention to the band Friday Mile, a very decent local band that delivered a kind of high energy twangy pop folk and filled clubs in Seattle for years. Friday Mile, I felt, were extremely professional. But I didn’t take inspiration from them. Fort Union is a different kind of animal.
Fort Union have created summer pop for grown-ups. Not the stuff you listen to in a convertible or while seducing divorcees, but music grown-up music fans can listen to and not feel they have to shut off a portion of their brain.
The difference between the two bands, the difference between what Fort Union does on this record and what a lot of us are doing, is impressive. Overall, there is a feeling of contentment; a relaxed, intelligent ethos. Putting this record on over and over again this week, I’ve been told, repeatedly, that it’s good background music. While I usually take that as a bad sign, this is the exception. Music that comfortably finds a groove is a good thing to discover. And the musical feel of contentment so matches the lyrics and is so far from the Beach Boys hits that we all still sing (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” comes to mind). To damn near every pop band on the radio, angst and vague personal or social complaint is the norm.
In ten songs, you get 9 slices of life of a man getting by with a woman and friends he loves– that’s the impression I got. Music and lyrics balance well. Consistently there are hooks with substance, but played with such a light touch that it never feels cloying. Musically, there are few missteps. Lyrically, there is the occasional clumsy moment–the second track, “That Part of Me,” a delicate pop song with a fantastic hook, has the lines ”That part of me still stands in the sun counting regrets like leaves of grass. And that part of me still burns you up when you ask questions but you don’t get answers.” If they’re clumsy, they at least feel honest.
Later on, you get “No More Executions,” a song which, I swear, references two Flaming Lips tunes from Clouds Taste Metallic, “This Here Giraffe” and “Christmas at the Zoo.” But in the way Brian Wilson would do it. The song “Broad Daylight” stands out to me as the single most addictive, most foot-stomping but mellow track on the record. Like so many of the tracks, its chorus calls out to a you with an affirmation, this time “You belong . . . in disguise”– again the feel is deeply positive somehow.
Altogether, Fort Union’s first record is truly a remarkable effort. Worth listening to, worth buying, and worth considering for what it has to say about where music should go as we move onto things that aren’t ourselves.
Fort Union release their new record, which I think is self-titled, July 27, 2012 at Tractor Tavern. You can also follow them here.