Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Alex Alex
This quaint and charming collection of folk songs is something I would highly recommend for anyone with ears. Yes, even deaf people. The songs are unassuming and inviting, and can be enjoyed in many ways. You can listen to them. You can dance to them — they’re ideal for polkas, but a few could be waltzed to, at least until the timing abruptly shifts, as it often does in these songs. You can sing along to them, but you’ll need to learn the words first. Or you could do some combination of these three things. It’s up to you, really. I can’t make all your decisions for you.
The music is generally upbeat and most of the songs tend toward a medium to fast tempo. The folkish style is somewhat the same throughout, yet occasionally takes an unexpected turn. For example, “Motor Car” begins as a Spanish-flavored guitar piece, then becomes a kind of smooth lounge number with thick jazzy bass lines, while still (somehow) retaining that Spanish sound. “Flies” begins as a solemn J. S. Bach-styled hymn, transforms into another folkish piece, and ends with a stretch of operatic beauty. The unpredictable changes in tempo and emphasis, often within the same song, keep the music from ever becoming too stale or predictable. There is a clear sense of timing, and a skillful use of pauses and continuations, giving the entire album a very organic quality, almost as if the music itself is breathing (sometimes panting) on its own.
The voice is perhaps the most limited aspect of the album, because it’s the sort of unchanging monotone that even Jon Anderson could mock, although to the best of my knowledge, Jon Anderson does not mock, so I only meant it hypothetically. Actually even the timbre of the voice is similar to Jon Anderson’s lilting and ethereal style… although maybe a more accurate comparison would be Tiny Tim. There is a playfulness in the voice that enhances and underscores the music, even in the most solemn songs. The vocals and the melodies intertwine so perfectly with one another that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to imagine this specific music without this specific voice. And vice-versa.
The subject matter covers a diverse range of emotions. There is affection (a number of different types, in fact). There are laments for failed relationships, or failed attempts at relationships. There is anxiety, and the fear of dying dirty and poor in wretched obscurity. Ultimately there is faith in a happy ending, where God explains everything to us and clears away all confusion and doubt. There is religion, there is football, there is sex. In short, this is a kaleidoscope of human feelings and urges, blended into a colorful crash-collage of jagged rainbow patterns, as deep and as beautiful as a shattered stained-glass window strewn across the floor of a vandalized cathedral. Yet the brick that shattered this window is inexplicably missing, making it a mystery for the ages.
If the album has one flaw, it is the inaccuracy of the opening number “Hamsters”. The procedure this song describes in such loving detail normally does NOT involve hamsters, as implied, but gerbils (or so I’ve heard). Hamsters would be more problematic because, unlike gerbils, they don’t have long tails, making them more difficult to get ahold of if they should venture too far. But this small idiosyncrasy only adds to the quirky, rough-hewn charm of the remarkable work of art that is Farmyard Filth. I would like to extend my most profound thanks to Mr. A. Alex for introducing me to this iconic milestone in folk rock.
In short, a remarkable and cathartic musical odyssey that I would recommend for the entire family.*
* other families, not mine