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:
or a violent summer storm
I will fear you, Lord
with trembling knees, Father
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.
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
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
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.
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.
By Steven Stuart Baldwin (9/15/98)