The cover art of Fiction Family’s latest extended play (EP), Holiday, tells you where they’re headed long before the opening note. A boat, cycles, cricket bats, racquets and bursting trunks piled above a yellow car, spell easy-listening holiday music. Released on Noisetrade for free and legal download, Holiday is Fiction Family’s precursor to its second album due for release in January 2013.
Fiction Family is a collaboration which began in 2009, between Switchfoot’s frontman Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek’s guitarist Sean Watkins. With Foreman’s effortless poetry and Watkin’s mastery on the acoustic guitar, their first album delivered gems such as ‘War In My Blood’, ‘Elements Combined’ and ‘When She’s Near’. Six-track Holiday extends their reputation for experimental percussion, finger-plucked guitars and divine harmony.
The album opens on a Christmassy note with the fast-paced guitar-driven ‘I Don’t Need No Santa Claus’. Sung in Foreman’s grainy, coarse voice, it talks of a man who wants no reindeers or ‘carollers singing off key’ this Christmas; nothing but his beloved. The song features plenty of chimes and choir oos for a definitive Christmas-carol feel, which heightens in the short instrumental interlude.
Up next is ‘Up Against The Wall’ — a classic Foreman number with a clean and simple melody line embellished by his poetry : “And the urn that holds the ashes/ Has been shattered by the fall/ I’m stuck with the circus king getting sick of it all/ Up against the wall”.
Also interesting is the lyrical imagery swinging between ‘picking up the pieces’ and a ‘puzzle that can’t be solved’. Halfway through the song, with the melody established, the duo breaks into a trumpet-backed refrain which builds over minor notes to burst into a full-fledged anthem with Foreman ad libbing over the layers. It’s Fiction Family at its creative best.
‘Damaged’ introduces us to Sean Watkins’ diametrically different vocal texture. It’s a quirky song about everything a ‘damaged’ suitor does to hide his damage from a prospective lover. It talks of ‘painting the outside only with major chords’ but admits the efforts are ‘propaganda’. Augmented by fuzzy tin percussion and distortion guitars, it makes for a fun listen.
Midway comes ‘We Ride’. No Foreman production is ever complete without the surfing song (“We turn clever thieves to steal the breath of angry seas”). Much like the beautiful opening line, ‘sunrise over troubled waters’, the opening bars feature the most delicate and gentle finger-picking on the EP.
Recorded live in San Francisco, the song showcases Foreman’s open-throated cries of ‘We ride down these living seas’. Halfway though, a drumroll leads into an extended percussion solo with the guitars jamming along, changing the soul of the song quite dramatically. While adventurous in itself, one wishes the vocals returned and fittingly closed the song.
Concluding the EP are two upbeat numbers ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ and ‘My Forgetful Baby’. The first with its distinctive bluegrass, sing-along touch underplays the lyrics of a man in a broken relationship, least interested in getting back with a woman who’s ‘so above him’.
The second tells the story of a married couple; only, the wife doesn’t recall the wedding and hence continues to ‘live like she’s single’.
Both reflect Fiction Family’s story-telling abilities. If the lyrical strength and musicianship of this EP are anything to go by, the forthcoming Fiction Family Reunion is bound to be a brilliant listen.