The Fibs self-titled second studio album isn’t a particularly cheerful affair – if you’re searching for life-affirming uplift, look elsewhere. Preston Newberry’s lyrical gifts grapple with life in all its unwieldy internal and external manifestations and definitely possess a curt focus driving to the heart of each song’s subject matter. There’s a frame of reference lyrically that darkwave and singer/songwriter fans will enjoy. It is strongly grounded in traditional literary strengths while still clearly tailored to serve the arrangements. The sonic landscape The Fibs inhabit is also filled with ambient flourishes enhancing the songs without ever detracting from the track’s individual foundations.
There’s an unsettling air opening the album’s first song and second longest tune “Waiting for a Train” that transition into one of the rhythm section’s best performances. Jen and Robby Rux provide The Fibs with a punchy rhythm section swagger carrying the song while Newberry and Joel Raif’s guitars weave and chime over the track’s impressive foundation. Despite the clear arty inclinations of the song, it isn’t inaccessible in any way. Newberry and his bandmates adopt an even-handed approach throughout the entirety of The Fibs self-titled second album that distinguishes them from their peers despite the evident stylistic trappings of their music.
The press material I received focused attention on the album’s second song, “Cut Hands”, among others, and it’s warranted. Much of the album’s vision emerges from this song, even more so than the first song, and the rhythm section and vocals alike take more of a backseat approach here than with the previous song. Likewise, the sound and design of “Cut Hands” is more indicative of the album as a whole. Newberry’s vocals are laden with strong effects, post-production and otherwise, but nevertheless fail to entirely lose their aching human quality. His writing is particularly chilling and cut to the bone here, but never rings false.
“Lexicon” is one of the most potent numbers included with this self titled release. Lead guitarist Raif leads much of the way with this tune and his hard-charging style laying out the song’s chords make it one of the album’s strongest guitar oriented numbers. Newberry’s songwriting for this collection, written under the sway of the famed Spanish poet Lorca, doesn’t resemble the aforementioned writer, per se, but it’s infused with much of the same sensitivity defining Lorca’s art and thrives in this musical climate. The steady, near-shimmering build beginning “Simply Divine” morphs into a solid mid-tempo pace with Raif and Newberry’s distant, yet atmospheric, guitar chords slashing over top of Jen and Robby Rux’s bass and drums. Despite the downbeat tilt of Newberry’s songwriting, he’s an immensely likable vocalist whose voice sweetens difficult situations and emotions enough to make them palatable for a mainstream audience and never sacrificing credibility along the way.
“Sapphire Eyes” is reminiscent of the previously mentioned song, but Newberry and his bandmates work with a larger canvas here, both lyrically and musically. The title may strike some as a little clichéd, how many songs must popular music endure about eyes or equating their appearance with gems, but Newberry’s idiosyncratic approach to both music and lyrics alike makes this a textbook example of how effective pouring old wine into new bottles can prove for modern songwriters. The Fibs cleverly round off this self-titled collection with the obviously self-referential “Morning Train Slide” and the album’s climax unifies the song cycle of this album in a way few of their contemporaries can manage. The Fibs are currently on the road flogging this new release for all its worth and there’s no question many of this album’s songs will become staples of their live act.
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-review by Jodi Marxbury