Few and Far Between – Three

Emo is quite the line to straddle these days. See, the connotation associated with emo anymore is, well, ‘sensitive’ (a.k.a. ‘wussy’), which sucks butt, since anyone basing a sound on any amount of intricate guitar parts and slow building, quiet-to-loud swells gets pigeonholed and discarded like McDonalds’ old styrofoam Bic Mac wrappers. The main problem I have with this theory of label-and-discard is that bands like Few and Far Between end up slipping through the cracks and getting ignored. Make no bones about it, Three is an emo record, through and through. The thing about it is, though, (*GASP!*) … it rocks. Hard.
There are, of course, a few of the ‘typical’ emo flourishes here – the quiet, introspective guitar instrumental opening track (though this one comes off as more of an apocolyptic number, thanks to the white noise track that accompanies it), the two or three deliberately slow numbers that reek of failed romance and self-doubt, and the guitar work throughout the disc that bounds back and forth from intricate and touching to crunching and hammering.
However, that isn’t important. None of that matters. What matters is that Few and Far Between deliver some complete and total ass-kicking when it matters most. On “Edison,” an unexpectedly groovy bassline rolls into a set of stun guitars that hit harder than bombs on enemy shores. “Maginot Line” is one of the more cleaned-up rockers — it doesn’t seem to rely quite as much on the dirty guitar crunch as some of the other numbers do (hell, the fierce guitar flare-ups have a really nice, delicate piano rhythm backing them up), but the intensity still gushes like a flood from this one. “Stop Trying” is another forceful track, coming off like a heavier version of Brandtson courtesy of the stop-on-a-dime, scattershot rhythm guitars and the catchy-as-hell chord progressions. “Pompeii” takes what could’ve been a random emo track and turns it into a fine piece of rock, courtesy of a mean guitar crunch and a slightly irregular rhythm that really sets the song to stand out.
Few and Far Between’s defining moment, however, is “Maybe for Now,” which explodes and brings Three to life following the dark instrumental opening. The stop-and-go rhythm is brutal enough on its own, but when the stun guitar floats over, it tears into the track with the urgency of a city full of whining ambulance sirens. The vocals are actually responsible for a majority of the intensity here, though, as Joe Phillips’ voice wails through the mix sounding like it could collapse at any second, though it never does. When he intones, “I need some sympathy, you think? / I think you’re wrong, ’cause I can see what you’re after,” the last line rises to a scream of impassioned accusation, putting an exclamation point on what was already a strongly declarative song in the first place.
Phillips’ vocals are an integral part of Few and Far Between’s sound. His voice at most times sounds comparable to Sting (yup, the one and only Gordon Sumner, no joke), especially when he finds himself straining to quietly push along an emotional idea with just the sound of his voice alone. Of course, his best/most emotionally driving vocals moments come in tracks like “Maginot Line,” when Phillips pushes his voice beyond the Sting similarities and into what can only be described as impassioned howls.
Even outside of the rocking stuff, Three offers up a lot of other very worthwhile listens. Album closer “In Loving Memory” opens as a rocker before weaving a piano piece into the rhythm to nice results, while even the more deliberately emo tracks like “Insomnia” and “Waking Up Tired” come off with a fresh, more rock-oriented vibe than most of the rest of the genre.
In an old Funkadelic tune, George Clinton challenged then-contemporary views of funk music, spitting forth the refrain, “Who says a funk band can’t rock?” Well, Few and Far Between prove that in this day and age of unfortunate music assumptions, emo bands can kick a whole lotta ass too. Recommended.