Fairburn Royals – The Sunshine Slowdown

Fairburn Royals
The Sunshine Slowdown

Having grown up as one of the millions of adolescent boys caught up in the baseball card explosion of the mid to late 80’s, there is a tendency for me to view each artist’s debut album as their “rookie” album now that my obsession has been transferred to music. Of course, in baseball card terms, a “rookie card,” for reasons determined long before I started dropping obscene amounts of money into the hobby, is generally much more sought after than a player’s other cards. In the realms of rock and roll albums, however, this is rarely the case (except for the true completists), as most bands produce vastly inferior work on their first release. At any rate, Fairburn Royals deliver their rookie release with The Sunshine Slowdown, and judging by the established criteria, it should prove quite collectible.
Opening with hard-charging guitar lines careening off of crashing drums in “Welcome to My Universe,” the fear that the garage-rock revival had grown to overtake the psychedelic-pop heartland of Athens, Ga. (where Fairburn Royals are from) was a distinct fear. Luckily, the pace slackened to find a more pensive groove, giving way to twinkling guitars and soft-throated vocals before mutating back into its previous shape. Like many of their Athens brethren, Fairburn Royals seem to indulge in more than a little throwback indie-pop, although with many of the former’s pretensions held in check. Occasionally, with the angular guitars and caustic energy of the arrangements on tracks like “High Noon” and “Movie,” the band clearly recalls the glory days of Pavement, although without Stephen Malkmus’ self-assured wit.
Still, there are times when one wishes for something resembling Malkmus’ famous (or infamous) wit, as certain tracks seem to struggle to make their lyrical statements clearly. For instance, whether the apparent pathetic sadness found in the narrator of “Secretary Day” is to be taken seriously or not is not easily grasped, though the track is more than saved by a gorgeously intricate keyboard line. Similarly, the pop balladry of “The Older Elvis” seems to strain for a profundity it can’t quite reach, as it isn’t the first nor the best song to attempt to find something uniquely human about Elvis Presley’s descent into drug-addicted obesity. That Elvis is a tragic figure isn’t open to debate, but the point almost seems belabored when pushed by the repeated yelling of “just like Elvis!” over and over. When delving into more stripped-down sounds, as with the pensive acoustic slide guitar of the title track, the Dave Pirner-ish tint to the vocals can lead to unfortunate comparisons to Soul Asylum, although the more deliberate rhythms and progression to noisiness of “Rather be Flying” find more similarities with the hypnotic pop side of the Velvet Underground. Overall, it’s a fine balance.
The band hits their stride with the absolutely shimmering indie-pop march of “Lovesong” and the pristine acoustic balladry of “Nightynigth.” The finale, twisting the classic hymn “I’ll Fly Away” with xylophone and a spontaneous sing-along feel, is the album’s most distinctive and revelatory track and more than hints at great things in their future. That kind of willingness to experiment with traditional sounds and transform them into their own rough impromptu approximations could make them stand out from the marginal crowds of indie pop bands.
Ultimately, only time will tell if The Sunshine Slowdown will gradually slip into obscurity as Fairburn Royals release more and better albums. If that’s the case, they will most likely have a rather distinguished career, as many bands have toiled for years without releasing an album this uniformly listenable. Still, there is room for growth (who knows, they may even get called up to the big leagues if they stumble upon a record contract).