Album Review: A.S. Fanning – Second Life

By on Thursday, 12th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

AS Fanning Second Life coverIrish singer/songwriter A.S. Fanning is making a ‘Second Life’ for himself, with a new solo LP of that particularly apropos title. The former frontman of Dublin-based bands Porn Trauma and The Last Tycoons, Fanning relocated to Berlin several years ago. Finding it to be more affordable than Dublin for his practical and musical purposes, he decided to stay on, and he finished recording the self-produced album ‘Second Life’ there earlier this year. Just after wrapping up the record, Fanning made his American debut at SXSW 2017, which is where TGTF happened to make his acquaintance.

As is often the case with carefully crafted pieces of music, the collection of songs on ‘Second Life’ have evolved over a lengthy songwriting process, and some of them have already made the rounds as early single releases. ‘Carmelita’, for example, dates back to the end of 2015, and it has stood the test of time for inclusion on the full LP. Indeed, the ironic religious imagery in its poetry and the desperately yearning quality of its refrain distinguish it straightaway as one of the album’s strongest tracks.

Appearing later in the album, ‘Dark Star’ has also been part of Fanning’s live repertoire for at least the better part of a year. Fanning’s dramatic baritone delivery of its darkly brooding lyrics “you met a sweet boy in that stupid bar with no name / he was so kind and helpful, apologised when he came” were a memorable part of his setlist at SXSW, and the song makes a similarly striking impact in the tracklisting of ‘Second Life’. Current single ‘Never Been Gone’ is slightly more uptempo in its shuffling rhythm, and distinctly warmer in tone than many of the tracks on the LP. Its light instrumental interludes and gently wistful lyrics, “soft summer sun, memory so strong, nothing needs explaining, just a feeling that you’d never been gone”, are a welcome glimpse of sunshine amongst the figurative shadows where Fanning more typically dwells.

Midway through the album, Fanning takes on a deliberately artistic aesthetic with instrumental piece ’The Heron’. Purely instrumental tracks are often more difficult to interpret than songs with words, but this one comprises musical gestures that are angular, delicate and tranquil, like the graceful bird mentioned in the title. Penultimate track ‘Empty Suitcase’ isn’t strictly instrumental, but its brief and distant vocal lines are clearly secondary in focus to the deftly constructed instrumental layers that make up its rich harmonic and textural soundscape.

‘That’s Where They’ll Find You’ is similarly expansive and dynamic in its instrumental arrangement, but much more ominous in tone. Its throbbing heartbeat pulse and heavy keyboard structure frame sinister lyrical references to places of “sickness and plain despair and all that is unjust / where raving madmen find their bliss and stiff john lust.” Here again, Fanning’s deep baritone plays to its greatest effect, with its unique combination of dry humour and utter solemnity.

Final track ‘Louis Armstrong’ is shaped as an old-fashioned jazz ballad with prominent brass in the backing arrangement, inspired by the famed American jazz musician who evidently factored into Fanning’s musical upbringing. Its lyrics have a mildly pessimistic bent, which keeps the song from feeling entirely out of place on the record. “I can only pray the joy outweighs the sadness in the end”, Fanning sings, and closing the album on this clever and surprising note ultimately brings that lyrical wish to fruition. A.S. Fanning’s ‘Second Life’ as a solo artist may be just beginning, but the wide range of his musical and lyrical ability has set him off to a very promising start.

8/10

A.S. Fanning’s debut LP ‘Second Life’ is due out tomorrow, Friday the 13th of October, via Proper Octopus Records. Tomorrow night, Fanning will play an album launch show at Dublin Whelan’s. TGTF’s previous coverage of A.S. Fanning, including live reviews from SXSW 2017, is right back this way.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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