Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reflecting on the solo path of Faces on Film

DRAMATIC LEAD: “I have moments sometimes when I think, ‘God, people must hear this and think I’m a real mope,’ ” says Mike Fiore. “It’s just what comes out.”
The isolated chronicler 

Has the musical landscape always been so glutted with nostalgia, or is it a condition specific to our peculiar period in time? Perhaps it's symptomatic of our inability to grasp the larger context of our moment in history. Or perhaps it's our exponentially increasing slouch toward solipsism. Whatever, it seems the prevailing mode of bands now is one of wistful reflection on things just out of the reach of the recent past. What else did bands ever sing about? I've been so busy remembering other people's memories that I don't remember anything else.

Maybe it's just all the reverb that's making every new record sound like a tear-stained flipbook of expired daydreams. That sort of echoing, elegiac mourning is the stylistic choice that jumps out of Some Weather, the gorgeous and, yes, nostalgia-mining second record from Boston's Faces on Film. It takes me all the way back to the good old days. Like last year, when I was really into Blitzen Trapper. Or the year before that, when I was playing Band of Horses all the time.

But be wary of such comparisons. "It doesn't bother me," says Faces on Film principal architect Mike Fiore. "People make easy associations like that — it's just a fact. I'm certainly not going to take on that battle. But, yes, I do think people would be missing the point if they get too hung up on the reverb. It'd be like comparing the Eagles to the Jets because they both wear green uniforms."

Some Weather does align with the spirit of those bands, but it takes the crying-cowboy persona into unexpected directions while still staking a claim on the unsettled vistas of the same dreary horizon. Fiore affects the role of the iconic American Western pioneer pining under purple skies, writing letters back home in his imagination to loved ones he'll probably never see again.

"The record is sort of based on a recurring dream I was having early in the year," he says of the pioneer analogy. "I was back in the times of the explorers. Or I was one of them. We were moving across new land, conquering, displacing what we found, claiming what was vacant. And it spanned my lifetime: I was young at the beginning and old at the end. I wouldn't call it a concept album or anything, but each song is a little piece of the trip."

Going it alone seems to suit Fiore. Although he's kept a handful of reliable collaborators, Faces on Film is in essence a solo project, with Fiore performing 90 percent of Some Weather. Does that solitary path conveyed in the dusty road, country quiet of his music cross over with his personal identity?
"I don't think so. It's funny, I have moments sometimes when I think, 'God, people must hear this and think I'm a real mope.' It's just what comes out. I don't try to steer it too much. I guess if there's any kind of intention, it's to be broad and blurry, to come from a place that has its first thin layer of reality chipped away and offer a passive account of that, in some way. So maybe there's isolation in that, in trying to act as observer. But, no, I'm not fixated on being desolate."

Fixated on the desolation of memory, perhaps? The hypnotic video for "Harlem Roses" — with its overexposed 8mm home-video footage of a long-shuttered carnival, spooky bonfire revelry, a ticker-tape parade, and anonymous families now long grown out of simpler times — crackles at the edges and burns away before your eyes. Much of the footage was found in a film canister buried in a yard close to where Fiore grew up in upstate New York. Parts of Some Weather are about that long journey he had in his dream; others, like, "Harlem Roses," are about the stops along the way. It's about "falling in love with what you're seeing. Falling in love with anything in its infancy. Seeing those first similarities between where you are and where you started, and having a reverence for that feeling." Nostalgia, in other words.

FACES ON FILM + MARCONI + BIRDS & BATTERIES + ST CLAIRE | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | December 11 at 9 pm | $10 | 617.566.9014 or greatscottboston.com

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