Grace and Dire Circumstances 
Artist: Farewell to Juliet 
Label: Marathon Records 
Time: 13 tracks, 56:51 

Readers of the Usenet newsgroup rec.music.christian have likely heard of Farewell to Juliet and producer/guitarist Jeff Elbel.  I had heard about the band in that forum for some time before I actually ordered their disc, and when I finally heard it, I kicked myself for not having ordered it sooner. Grace and Dire Circumstances is a solid album, and is doubly impressive for being a self-produced independent release. 

Musically, the band blends acoustic and electric guitars in such a way that neither dominates the overall sound.  The result is a sound that's more aggressive than Jars of Clay and not as noisy as many of the "modern rock" bands that currently abound, though "Thermostat" shows that the band can crank it up when they want to.  Several disparate influences stand out in the band's sound, from 80s Rush to early Sixpence None the Richer to FTJ's "favorite band," the Choir, from their Chase the Kangaroo period.  Vocalist Brant Hansen turns in some good performances here, though his vocals seem to sound somewhat better suited to praise songs like "Fear the Lord" than to rockers like "Seven Three One."  One complaint is that the lead vocals sometimes sit a bit too far out in front of the mix and overpower the excellent background vocals and instrumentation. 

Lyrically, the album is somewhat uneven, even within individual songs.  For every pleasant turn like "Stagger through and curse the dark/Or light the midnight oil/A land of milk and honey lies/Beneath this northern soil" from the band's cover of the Choir classic "Chase the Kangaroo," there's a jarring lyric like "Hello, my name is daddy/I'll be your sitter for a while/Don't mess yourself/Don't mash your peas/And please don't lose that smile" from "Justice."  Still, the band aspires to a more poetic approach to lyric writing, and even if they don't always succeed, the effort is to be commended.  In many cases, even when the lyrics don't quite measure up, the music is good enough to carry the song through. 

Standout tracks include "Holiday on Ice," the joyfully Sixpence-esque "Browning's Pearl," the intense "Ever Be," and the aforementioned remake of "Chase the Kangaroo," in which the band reworks the song musically and lyrically, and turns out a surprisingly good take on it. 

While not without flaws, Grace and Dire Circumstances is a pleasant listen with some legitimately good songs.  Pick this disc up now, and when the band gets discovered by a major label, you can say "Yeah, I knew them when..."  

By Jerry Ray 

 

 

Anybody who follows the internet discussion group rec.music.christian will almost certainly have come across the band Farewell to Juliet, if not through the participation of guitarist/vocalist Jeff Elbel in the group, then through the ravings of other discussion participants. The band's second full album, Grace and Dire Circumstances, is a well-presented project released on their own  label, Marathon Records. The overall sound of the album reflects the band's Choir influences, especially in the lyrics and in some of the guitar work, although many songs have a more aggressive feel than a majority of the Choir's material.  

The lyrics focus primarily on feelings, with struggles and pains acting as prominent themes. There is also a definite spirit of worship, especially in the final track called "Fear the Lord," which starts out with a (badly played) trumpet and moves into an acoustic arrangement. The lyrics are based on a poem by Maria Wallis: 

    like the deepest ocean current 
    or a violent summer storm 
    I will fear you, Lord 

    with trembling knees, Father 
    and with wavering voice 
    I will fear you, Lord,

Vocalist Bratt Hansen has a strong, well-rounded voice which complements the voices of backing vocalists Jeff Elbel, John Bretzlaff, and guest vocalist Kim Bretzlaff nicely. The guitars are often distorted, and at times are fairly jangly, but there are some impressive solos further into the album. The melodies and chord progressions are strong and keep me listening. There are a few points at which some songs seem a little long, or I can't quite grasp a metaphor, and a couple of times I wondered if the guitar tones coming through were as appropriate as they could be. But, overall, I enjoyed this album more than I expected to. 

By James Stewart 

 

 

After five years and a bout with band mitosis, Farewell to Juliet is back with their second album,Grace and Dire Circumstances.  No sophomore jinx here.  The cover depicts a butterfly beset by flames, grace under fire as it were.  These guys certainly display that with this new album.  Their debut record, Echoes of Laughter made quite an impression on those of us fortunate to have heard it, but even so this latest installment displays obvious development on all fronts.  
  
They have maintained their characteristic sound, melodic with a penchant for punching out some good rock and roll.  They wear their Choir influence on their sleeves throughout, most notably with a cover of "Chase the Kangaroo."  With some additional lyrics by Elbel, they take the song in a whole new direction, one which I must admit I find more accessible than Steve Hindalong's original.  This song could perhaps be the heart of the album, expanding on the album title in these verses:  

    Choir choir world on fire  
    Grace and circumstances dire  
    Hydrants fail and flames surround  
    Time for going underground  
      
    You may find me in a trench  
    Racing from the falling sky  
    If Sydney is my sanctuary  
    Guess I'll dig until I die
One thing that stands out to me in particular is the improvement in the match between words and music.  Guitarist and co-producer Jeff Elbel's lyrics on the first album sometimes seemed less fit for singing than for reading owing to their phonetic complexity, but this tendency has since been shed.  The lyrics for "Thermostat," Elbel's reflection on stardom in light of Kurt Cobain's suicide, still tie the tongue a little, but the content and style of the song support, yea, demand such a delivery:  
    A curious thing, moth to flame  
    Are craving heat and light the same?  
    If illumination draws them in  
    They fly for lunar soil  
      
    If temperature fuels their desire  
    Then shun the moon and fly to fire  
    And quench a most peculiar thirst  
    To feel the innards boil 
A good example of the marriage of music and words is "Justice," lead singer Brant Hansen's advice to his then-newborn son.  I heard a very early live version of this song recorded a few years ago, and it has aged very well.  It begins rattling off a series of admonitions, with a rousing rock music ride, but evolves into a lullaby, a spoken-word blessing on the sleeping child, and a quiet heart-beat drum pattern.  

The band displays a great deal of versatility, with mellow, poppy numbers like "Browning's Pearl" and jumpy, rockers like "Bittersweet," and songs like "Seconds Count," which opens with a cool, bass-driven groove that would do Tim Chandler proud, and ends with a heavy metal jam session. They cover the whole range with both passion and skill, and make this album well worth tracking down.  
  
By Titi Ala'ilima (8/20/98) 

 

Farewell to Juliet's reputation as a Choir clone is not helped by their reverent remake of "Chase the Kangaroo," but that connection seems to suit this band just fine. The Choir-esque sounds aside, the real question is: is there room for another intelligent, artsy modern rock band with a familiar sound? Farewell to Juliet makes a powerful case. Despite their obvious veneration for their favorite band, there is enough other stuff happening in their music--for instance the Rush-like qualities of "Justice"--to set them apart, making them no mere imitators. Not all of these songs are on equal footing, and some seem a bit overlong. Had a wee bit of fat been trimmed, this would have been an even stronger album. The highlights here are worthy enough to sustain the album, however, and special recognition goes out to songs like the moody rock of "Holiday on Ice" and "Bittersweet," rockers like  "Justice" and "Thermostat," and modern hymns like "Fear the Lord," a truly wonderful worship experience. It should not be implied that the other songs are mere filler--far from it.  They are merely less immediately and subjectively noteworthy. With plenty of respectable songs, this is a slightly uneven but overall admirable collection. Grace and Dire Circumstances is also chock-full of beautiful arrangements and passionately played songs. Jeff Elbel's varied guitar work is especially exemplary. The lyrics range from insightful to worshipful and poetic to pure fun. The production is laudable. Even the artwork and packaging is top notch. Farewell to Juliet may not have reinvented modern rock, but they are carving their own niche. Of the more obscure indie bands out there, they are clearly one of the most qualified for full-time status due to the quality of both their songs and musical execution. The sum of these parts is atmospheric and arresting, charming and catchy, memorable, and most of all, definitely worth your time and attention. Forget farewell. Why not say hello. 

Contact information: 
Marathon Records (310) 355-0533 
PO Box 1222 
El Segundo, CA 90245-6222 
Email: SunnyRoses@aol.com 

By Steven Stuart Baldwin (9/15/98)