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Fairline Parkway - Fairline Parkway

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Artist: Fairline Parkway

Album: Fairline Parkway

Label: Lazyline

Review date: Oct. 10, 2002

An Anonymous Genre

Given our age's predilection for genre-creation, it's surprising when a few readily identifiable subgenres somehow escape being named. In a world where IDM, drum-and-bass, and slow-core exist, how is it that some types of music simply float in the ether, without any kind of tangible reference? One such genre is that which would include, in my mind, Portastatic, American Analog Set, and the Kingsbury Manx, to name just a few. Although these bands draw from the same pool as many other indie bands (Galaxie 500, the Velvets, Aussie pop, the Pastels), they have managed to carve out a niche for themselves, but one which has remained elusive, passing just slightly under our collective musical radar. Whether or not this genre is eventually named (shuffle-core, passive pop?) is beside the point, but it says something interesting about these bands' music that they've remained elusive in this way.

It's certainly not for lack of production, as bands like Portastatic and AmAnSet have released several stellar records, cleverly melding their influences and quietly producing some amazing pop. The elements vary, but almost always include acoustic guitars, garage electronics, and a wistful, melancholic sense for melody. If this genre had been named, we would probably regard it as having entered its second wave, with its musical language fully absorbed into the lexicon and bands like Portastatic making Brazilian-influenced records. Fairline Parkway, hailing from Atlanta, have clearly heard the above bands, but have also managed to push the genre a few steps further with their self-titled debut.

The album opens with "Street", using familiar elements: hushed, mumbled vocals, slightly off-kilter drums, and open, airy piano. It's a good beginning, and quite a beautiful song, but the album really starts with "Same Cigarettes", possibly one of the best songs to see release this year. Built around a curling guitar line and some lovely singing about repeating your parents' mistakes, it takes all the familiar elements of the genre and turns them into a stunning pop song. Humming organ, hints of slide guitar, gently propulsive drums and a weird electronic coda swirl together as the song worms its way through an arrangement that's off, but somehow just right. "Bores Me" and "Epilepsy" display this same fine pop sense, the former with AmAnSet-like acoustic shuffle and the latter with electronics and well-placed boy/girl harmonies.

Fairline Parkway consists of two main members, Raj Gadhia and Zack Okun, who have been playing basements and small shows for a few years. This has clearly influenced their sound; it also seems to have refined their sensibilities immensely. This debut reflects an intriguing moment in pop. Bands like Portastatic, initially conceived as offshoots and defined as alternatives to certain sounds are now sounds in their own right, wells for other bands to draw from. Perhaps then, this kind of music will continue to go unnamed since it seems to suggest in its very execution a sense of quiet indifference to how it might be received or perceived. It simply flows out of the speakers, in an unpretentious and unassuming way. Fairline Parkway's album unfolds in this manner, and after a point, it becomes less about individual songs and more about the long, unraveling arc of the album.

Elements like lyrical directness (or comprehensibility) become less important than overall tone and cohesiveness. Many of Fairline Parkway's songs are actually quite complex in their arrangements, but you have to pay attention to pick each piece apart, since the whole flows together so well. And because it does flow, you don't bother to dissect it. It just sounds right. Little phrases and expressions occasionally surface, and they can color the entire meaning of a song. There is a heavy leaning towards a kind of nostalgic longing, but the songs are so beautiful that they transform melancholy into a good thing. Like a gloriously rainy weekend, Fairline Parkway manage to revel in the beauty of regret and sadness, and without resorting to cliché. No mean feat for a debut, and one that might finally puts this nameless genre on the linguistic map.

By Jason Dungan

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