There’s no real reason why the indie overground couldn’t lap this up.
Noel Gardner 2009
Geoff Farina, despite being a productive and strikingly individual voice during the last 15 years of American independent rock, has never come close to serious mainstream recognition. It’s a peculiarity, though: his best-known band, Karate, were in many ways accessible, perhaps even smooth. Fusing delicate instrumentation with a jazz sensibility and punk rock grounding, they could even be dubbed the US underground’s answer to Steely Dan.
Karate having broke up in 2005, our subject here has kept his hand in with a few projects. Glorytellers, a Boston-based trio, is the one which most closely resembles Karate, along with his 1990s indie-pop band the Secret Stars. Glorytellers’ debut self-titled album, from early 2008, was a sweet and accomplished work that successfully telegraphed Farina’s intention to work once more in folky, indie-ish pastures. That said, it lacked somewhat in memorable moments and general oomph. Atone is a lot more impactful in this regard. You might even say it atones for its predecessor, if you insisted.
Set to unusually frantic finger-picking-and-drums folk-rock that Mumford & Sons might sound like if they lived up to their billing, opening track The Lost Half Mile fuses the personal, the political and the romantic, finding Farina gazing out of the window on a train journey, musing on how the towns he passes through have been affected by the decline of mining. Concaves employs blues-fried harmonica, offsetting its essential tenderness; Softly As She Sings has something of the Dylans and Phil Ochses about it, electrifying Americana as if it were a hot new thing and doing it most appealingly.
Although Farina deploys his light-fingered jazzy guitar style to fine effect on tracks like Hawaiian Sunshine, Atone is ultimately a less challenging experience than pretty much any given Karate record. That’s no criticism: he twists and turns in a narrow stylistic corridor, pulling shapes that, ultimately, only resemble Geoff Farina. There’s no real reason why the indie overground couldn’t lap this up if someone like Conor Oberst can be as big as he is, but regrettably, this will probably not come to pass.