“I’ll never love another, who doesn’t look like you in some way. I’ll say the same thing to everyone I see. If I repeat it to enough of them you’ll hear it some day.” – The lyrical barbs of “Everyone I’ll Never See Again” come fast, sharp and unrelentingly. This is the opening track of The Far Stairs EP, Figure One – and it’s a signal of intent in a sequence that’s weighed with longing, and the kind of energy that propels the human heart.
Across the five tracks we hear the word ‘heart’ many, many times. There’s something deeply pleasing in the unadulterated focus on emotion over thinking, and impulse over restraint. The rapidity of verses, and the strings of words that cascade from songwriter Jesse Livingston’s mouth, is breathtaking.
Livingstone’s vocal performance, carrying tales of dislocation, confusion, and sometimes celebration, seldom drops beneath the urgent. There’s a pleasing tension in his larynx. You know those early Violent Femmes tracks where Gordon Gano sounded like he was pulling his hair out in the vocal booth? The Far Stairs occupy some of that space – but with less blisters.
Melodic progressions preserve a keenness for broad appeal, and oftentimes we can guess the tunes that the band played in their formative years. There’s plenty of salt and lime in the guitar riffs. We shouldn’t say ‘jangling’, but there’s an element of late-80’s early 90’s classics – stabbing keys, driven drums, and the production values that hark back to Athens, GA. Scanning the track list you see the song “Murmur” and you think, “Okay, I see where this is going.” But you’re wrong.
There’s a line of enquiry that brings a much-needed steadiness to the patchwork of angular observations. The Far Stairs appear to be buffeted by the cruelties of modern living. Instrumentally, these songs dart, splash, and administer tiny shocks. At times there are too many concerns crammed into a track, but perhaps that the point. Nothing demands a re-listen more than a song from which you catch only 90% of the words in the first listen.
Figure One, for all of it’s searching, also arrives with certainty. The video for “Going to Phoenix” sums things up well. With a similar budget to Keith TOTP’s “If You Want Twee…” this stuff has it’s own idea of grandeur. A group of souls on some kind of existential quest – speeding through a landscape of threat and beauty – are also victims to their own impulses. It’s mad out there. Whoops, let’s drop some LSD – what’s the worst that could happen? Road movies, when they work, work because they’re the simplest metaphor for progression. The arc that’s explored here is both internal and external. The worldview here is well-humored, but beware, there’s darkness too. The instrumental collapsing at the end of the track is pretty fucking lovely.
The velocity of Figure One gives something away of the kind of energy that the band have been harboring. This sequence ends with two incredible tracks. The penultimate tune is a cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s “Adventure Rocket Ship”, and it’s feels natural to leave the earth. The trajectory away from the pains of existence, and into the heavens, seems inevitable. And also deep fun. But the closer, “Love Will Find You” is a spaced out, declaration of optimism. This catalog of locations, and times where love will find you, is the highest point of a remarkable release. The cacophony that takes us to the final thirty seconds is great, and the lyrics reveal – that despite sharp edges, and protective barbs, the center of all things can be touched.
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