From the opening strains of ‘Another One Riding’, it's clear that Northern Irish five-piece Farriers debut album is not what one might have expected. There are many subtle touches here that will surely catch long-time fans off guard.
Farriers wear their musical tastes on their collective sleeve, more American than Bruce Springsteen, more authentic than Mumford & Sons. Years Ago in Our Backyard is, however, a difficult beast to pin down.
Having built an incredibly strong reputation as a fearsome live act, Farriers are confident in their own sound, powerful and anthemic.They have transferred that sound to tape, but wrapped the whole thing in a shimmering, ambient soundscape.
The album opens, with white noise rising slowly from the silence, creating an atmosphere that could point in any number of musical directions.
Fans of the band need not worry, because Farriers only travel west. The gently strummed sound of Stephen Macartney’s resonator guitar cuts through the gloom, and puts us back on familiar ground. What follows are 11 perfectly crafted tracks that mark Years Ago in Our Backyard out as easily a contender for the Northern Irish album of the year.
Farriers' live experience is a visceral rush, full of power and sing-a-long moments, but this album is cloaked in mystery, every song framed in dramatic, hushed tones that provide an unlikely but welcome backdrop for the characteristically anthemic songs. All new, all as good as anything Farriers have written in the past.
The level of musicianship on display is exemplary. Each member of the band brings something unique to the picture, from Rachel Coulter’s sweetly melancholic vocals, to the yearning viola of Kate Squires – firmly rooting the band in an Americana tradition – whilst the rhythm section of Gareth Hughes and Gerry Morgan keep the fire in the engine room burning.
Farriers' sound is muscular, urgent and energetic, always driving forward, never getting too mired in the layers of sound they create. Whilst ‘Another One Riding’ is beautiful and understated, tracks like ‘So Long as I Can Stay’ capture the sound of late night drinking sessions, when guitars are dragged out and everyone joins in.
Tracks like ‘San Remo’ and ‘Fickle Fold’, meanwhile, sound lived in, peopled by characters who have seen things – committed acts – that others would want to forget. One gets the sense that this isn’t mere roleplaying, rather Farriers craft stories and follow narratives in their songs. These tracks are so accomplished it's difficult to imagine that Farriers don't have many more in the locker.
Quite how a Northern Irish band managed to tap into such a resonant vein of Americana is difficult to say, but there’s no doubt that Farriers never veer into pastiche. It’s easy for a band to wear the clothes and talk the talk, whilst never having that emotionally resonant centre that makes it work. Farriers never stumble into this trap.
Everything about Years Ago in Our Backyard feels authentic, from the production to the playing to the songs to the picture on the cover – this is no fluke. Yet Farriers don’t make it easy for us. Every time you listen to these songs, there’s another level of meaning to be found, another layer of delight to look behind. This is music for the ages, and we’re lucky to have it right now.
Years Ago in Our Backyard is out now.