Fariña: Allotments

As the long winter nights draw in, music lovers need something happy and generous to ward off the onset of the cold and the dark. Look no further than Fariña’s Allotments, a record filled to the brim with smart, vivacious songwriting, and one that issues a timely reminder of the virtues of literate, well crafted pop music.

Remarkably, the core members of Fariña, Mark Brend and Matt Gale, have been making music together for 25 years. They are joined on Allotments by Cliff Glanfield and Tim Conway, forming a group whose collective intuition and co-operative spirit are in ample evidence throughout this record’s twelve tracks. Free of grandstanding displays of egotism, the four band members each write some of the songs, share lead vocals and create a tone of charming togetherness.

Fariña have drawn comparisons with folk troubadours such as David Ackles and Tim Hardin, but for my money their most obvious antecedent is the refined pop of bands like the Lilac Time and the Go-Betweens. The opening “Island of Hotels” is simply a perfect song, its wistful pastoralism defined by Brend’s airy vocals and Conway’s blissed out acoustic guitar work. A gentle trumpet solo wanders in and out of the languid rhythm section, sealing the song’s timeless, summery beauty.

As the record progresses, it is Brend (the author of three books on music) who comes across as the most gifted of the group’s writers. “Island of Hotels” is one of his, and so too are most of the album’s highlights, from the witty, Lloyd Cole-esque “Never Any Good” to the moving elegy for lost love and opportunity, “B-Side”: “I may be tough, but sometimes rock’n’roll is not enough/Is this what you get/You get a black belt in regret.” The song is beautifully framed by shimmering electric guitar and an extended instrumental outro.

Things do get a little arch at times. Gale’s “Brief Encounter” is a slight, sub-Divine Comedy sketch of a woman’s illicit encounter with her lover, and the Neil Hannon similarities continue into Brend’s wordy paean to corporate salesmen, “Sales Force”, and Conway’s similarly prolix “Sleep”. Musically, Fariña have a weakness for cheap Casio synthesisers that lessens the emotional impact of a song like “She Radiates”. Despite these reservations, Allotments is still a tender, quietly impressive collection.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 15, 2007)