The Fairways - This Is Farewell

matcd031  /  June 2004
The Fairways - This Is Farewell
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The Fairways - This Is Farewell

matcd031  /  June 2004

Outstanding collection of songs recorded between 1998 and 2004 by sadly departed San Francisco pop darlings The Fairways. One of the most beloved bands on the international pop scene, the band produced highly melodic songs coupling jangling guitars, piano, organ, flute and strings with the melancholic voice of lead singer Brent Kenji. In one energetic burst at the turn of the century The Fairways released a brilliant debut single and album, contributed tracks to several international pop compilations, toured the USA and Japan, and placed a song in a mainstream Miramax film. Despite glowing reviews and an ardent following across the globe, the promise of a highly anticipated second album never materialized and the band drifted apart. While bassist Jen Cohen played in fellow San Francisco hitmakers The Aislers Set, Kenji went on to form the celebrated Matinée duo The Young Tradition. The 13 tracks on this swansong CD include eight previously unreleased songs that formed the basis of that elusive second album, two tracks from their sold out 'Darling Don't You Think' 45 on Matinée, a song from a limited split single with The Aislers Set, and two tracks from a 2001 tour CD. In addition to signature Fairways originals, the album includes covers of select songs by Japanese pop group Three Berry Icecream, venerable American songwriter Walter Donaldson, and Scottish indie legends Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes. This is Farewell is a modern indiepop classic and a wonderful way to say goodbye to a truly remarkable band.

  1. Don't Call Me Dear
  2. The Back Of Her Hand
  3. Catch That Man
  4. The Rain Fell Down
  5. Starstruck
  6. Winter Song
  7. Casino Lights
  8. Nowhere To Go
  9. Little White Lies
  10. Fine Day
  11. Emily
  12. Goodbye California
  13. This Is Farewell


The Fairways' This Is Farewell is indeed the farewell release by the San Francisco-based indie poppers. The disc is made up of demos for their never-finished second album recorded at various times and songs released on singles. Eight of the 13 tracks here are demos and taken together they form what could have been one of the great indie pop records right up there with the Orchids' Unholy Soul or Heavenly's Le Jardin de Heavenly. The songs are catchy and sweet, built around ringing guitars and Brent Kenji's tender vocals. Recorded as demos, they sound fuller and more realized than most bands' finished records. The first three songs on the record are a stunning combination that, taken alone, would have been enough to secure the band a spot in the indie pop firmament. "Don't Call Me Dear" is a electric piano-driven jangler with wonderful group-harmony vocals and some bitingly funny lyrics, "The Back of Her Hand" is more traditional Fairways material but delivered with more verve than before, and "Catch That Man" is café jazz balladry at its best with more fine vocals from the group. Of the other demos, the bubbling cover of the old chestnut "Little White Lies" and the thick and rich "Goodbye California" stand out. It is fortunate that these tracks can be heard, but it is a melancholy pleasure to think that music this good was never fully realized. The single tracks are not as musically inventive or memorable, though there are a couple of fine efforts like their take on Jesse Garon & the Desperadoes' "The Rain Fell Down," a note-perfect tribute to a band that is unjustly obscure, and the acoustic "This Is Farwell," which could have come straight off of Tracey Thorn's solo record. The only complaint is with the sequencing of the album. It would have been better to present the eight demos as a unified piece and then let the single and comp tracks end the disc. Oh well, better this way than not at all. The Fairways story is not an uncommon one. Thanks to Matinée for letting them tell it.   --All Music Guide
"These tiny lights now glowing dim," Brent Kenji of The Fairways sings at the start of the last track on This Is Farewell. The title track, it's a bittersweet breakup song that will also stand as the band's final goodbye to fans. Coming four years after their first full-length album, This Is Farewell is a farewell pieced together from unreleased demos and rare tracks. Yet it sounds nothing like the mongrel that it is - if I didn't know better I'd assume it to be a collection of brand-new songs, confidently put forth as the next step forward. In other words, there's 13 beautiful pop songs here, and they hold together as one expression - a showcase of the skill of writing perfect songs, with melodies, harmonies and structures to die for, but also a running conversation about love and loneliness and heartbreak. The Fairways' sound has a laidback California-ness to it (as does Kenji's current band The Young Tradition), but also a very 60s-ish love for arrangements and melodies (think Zombies, Beach Boys, Left Banke) and the stark sort of beautiful rumination present in someone like Nick Drake. There's an overriding melancholy to the album ("Winter happens all the time around here," one song tells us), but also a wry humor about it, and sense that wisdom has been gained through hurt and experience. Highlights include the bouncy opener "Don't Call Me Dear" (which contains the memorable line, "don't call me queer cause you were one last year") and, perhaps my favorite, the relaxed yet emotional gambling scene "Casino Lights," yet every song is top-notch. There's something about the sad yet pretty style of pop music that the Fairways play which is inherently suited for tearful goodbyes, as it continually brings to mind the passing of time and the fleetingness of everything. This Is Farewell is a perfect enough goodbye to even make newcomers nostalgic for the times they didn't experience.   --Erasing Clouds
And did I ever tell you how much I love the Fairways’ This Is Farewell (Matinée)? I know I mentioned them in the past. It was three years ago, and the San Francisco band had just released their Everything Is Alright album on Paris Caramel, a set which if I recall rightly I said was the sound of soft and seductive Pop. Well, no surprise then to inform you that this Matinée collection is more of the same. Only even better. There are still chiming inflections of fine ‘80s indiepop here (there’s even a peach of a cover of the wonderful ‘The Rain Fell Down’ by Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes), but now those references are joined by a more obvious nod to the sunshine influence of the West Coast Soft Pop sound of the ‘60s. It makes for the fine kind of listening that lifts you through these kinds of mornings; the kind of Pop that presses its warm hands to your cheeks and drops the sweetest of kisses on the tip of your nose. This isn’t Pop that wants to snog and shag. Rather, it’s the kind of Pop that understands the pleasure in restraint, that understands that what is left unsaid is often more memorable than what is not. It’s Pop that lies clothed beside you on top of the sheets, hands and feet not quite touching, revelling in the tiny sparks that cross the divide and that lull you eventually into slumber. It’s the kind of Pop that stays up for hours talking about everything and nothing, is the kind of Pop that whispers to you softly in the morning dew as the sun rises lazily over the deserted tree houses on the horizon; the kind of Pop that knows when to say goodbye and good luck. And the added bittersweet beauty is that This Is Farewell is exactly what it says it is; a last lingering look and a hand raised in goodbye by a band most never knew existed. Sometimes that’s the sweetest sound of all.   --Tangents
And I really do have to admit hand on heart to being in debt to the Santa Barbara based label Matinée because again they’ve managed to unearth another band who shamed as I am to admit I’d never previously been aware of and of whom I now find my first introduction to them sadly being a compilation in the light of their demise. Isn’t that always the case? But then life is like that isn’t it, cruel, totally cruel. This final bow out from the San Franciscan quartet might be welcomed with an understandable amount of sadness and sense of loss, yet it perfectly documents for all time a lasting snap shot of a band who to many meant much more than the music they crafted. As a compilation its worth considering that this could have easily served to be a cheap regurgitation of tracks already out and about in the public domain. Yet as always with Matinee there’s care and attention at play here as what you are presented with are thirteen slices of softly trembling summer pop for your hi-fi to groove to made up in the main from unreleased demos (some of which where earmarked for their non appearing eagerly awaited second album) plus selected cuts from variously a tour single, their long sold out debut single and a handful of covers. The first thing that strikes you about the Fairways, aside the fact that this is the kind of stuff perfect for a stroll in the local park on a summers day hand holding a loved one, is that they cleverly hone in on the best elements of Sarah, Summershine (Orchids, Sea Urchins) and other such like labels catalogues without managing to come away from the experience sounding overtly (trademark) whimsical. Jangle happy guitars hazily wander with an infectious often 60’s summer glee that’s so contagious that you’ll find resisting the charms of these gems a serious battle of wills. Cuts such as ‘Winter Song’ which originally appeared as a split release with Japan’s Three Berry Icecream has that same smouldering elegance as set early Belle and Sebastian releases apart from the chasing pack though here sounding like their entertaining that skipping sense of optimism of the Housemartins, while the simply arresting ‘Casino Lights’ casts that same numbing West Coast bitter sweet awe that’s so trademark of Clock Strikes 13. Elsewhere there’s the 50’s bubblegum rap of the Walter Donaldson cover of ‘Little White Lies’ and the near perfect Beatle-esque introspection of ‘Fine Day’. Every single cut here is a veritable nugget though forced with my hand up my back, for me personally ‘Catch That Man’ edges the collection if only for the way they manage to capture the innocence and that sense of happy go lucky naivety of the Free Design and not many achieve that believe you me. ‘This is Farewell’ serves as a bona fide addition to a sweet and lasting legacy of one album ‘Is everything all right?’ an EP ‘Darling, don’t you think?’ and a clutch of split release appearances though you can be assured the spirit hasn’t been altogether lost or forgotten alive and well as it is in both Kenji (The Young Tradition) and Cohen’s (Aislers Set) current obsessions.   --Losing Today
Joni Mitchell once remarked, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone". That's certainly the case with San Francisco indie pop darlings the Fairways, who called it quits earlier this year after a six-year run. They've marked the occasion with the release of This is Farewell, a vault-clearer that makes me wish my introduction to the band wasn't their swan song. The album's liner notes comment on the irony that This is Farewell is the first time many will hear the band, but this notion is laced with optimism, and it's a great summation of the band's worldview: "Therein lies the beauty of the best pop music: it arrives to all of us differently, and leaves patterns of aural residue that sounds unalike to each and every pair of ears". The Fairways -- singer Brent Kenji, guitarist Andrew Leavitt, bassist Jen Cohen, and pianist/organist Keiko Kayamoto -- are true romantics, and for them, having folks hear their band posthumously is better than not being heard at all. Sonically, This is Farewell is full of gentle, warm Beatle-esque pop with just enough bite to keep it from becoming too precious. And, despite the fact that the songs were culled from various sources -- previously unreleased material, limited-edition 45s, Clinton-era b-sides -- This is Farewell sounds like an album proper (no bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings here). Honey-voice lead singer Kenji resigns himself to thoughts like "I'm getting further away from you today", (on "Goodbye California"), but the band around him -- especially guitarist Leavitt, who never met a twangy hook he didn't like -- make Kenji's "terminal melancholia" (the band's term) a beautiful thing. Post-adolescent malaise is timeless, so it's no surprise that much of This is Farewell sounds as if it could have been recorded at any point in the last 40 years (yes, I am aware that 40 years is not "timeless", just go with me on this): the piano-and-handclap drive "Catch That Man", the lively Walter Donaldson cover "Little White Lies". Maybe it's this "timeless" factor that helps lend an air of naïveté, or at least wonderment, to This is Farewell; no song bears the weight of millennial cynicism or snark. Kenji, in awe, notes on the muscular-coffeehouse ("espressohouse"?) folk tune "The Rain Fell Down", that "the world is mine tonight". On "Fine Day", he makes like Ray Davies, fashioning a life of quiet contentedness out of looking out the window and tending to his garden. But lest you think Kenji is too cutesy a songwriter, he displays a fine sense of humor on "Casino Lights" ("I ain't got the money to bring you back home again") and "Nowhere to Go", where his narrator suggests to his girlfriend that they beat their small-town ennui by borrowing his sister's car, driving to Georgia, and eating peaches and reading the newspaper once they get there -- the song, and frankly the whole album, sounds like a West Coast Fountains of Wayne after a smart aleck-ectomy. The lines notes allude to a band break-up fueled by "the random circumstance of post-adolescence" (bassist Cohen joined up with the Aislers Set; Kenji formed the Young Tradition), but with this set of sad, beautiful, wide-eyed songs, I can't help but wonder if the Fairways' collective soul wasn't too sensitive for this world. The band was aware of its own mortality, too: the title track was the b-side to their debut single from August 1998, and on it Kenji realizes "I'm better alone / I guess I'm happy alone" before quietly exiting to a peaceful piano coda. I may not have known of them during their existence, but in death the Fairways will be missed.   --Pop Matters
Californian quintet The Fairways are most notable for Brent Kenji's excellent, Art Garfunkelish tenor. This is boppy guitar- and organ-led pop that's quite sophisticated in places - sort of a sunnier American take on early Everything But The Girl, but with a guy singer. "Catch That Man" and "Little White Lies" are unbelievably great.   --The Big Takeover Magazine
There's always something a little bittersweet about a band's final record. The Fairways' This Is Farewell is a document of a band that never really had the opportunity to shine. Forming in the last part of last century, the Fairways were a part of the gentle Aislers Set-dominated indiepop scene. They released a single, two split releases and an album and they toured several times, but they ran out of steam and quietly disbanded. That's more than a lot of bands do, but in the case of the Fairways, the greatest tragedy is that you probably didn't know them then. Their loss didn't make much of an impression at the time, but This Is Farewell, a collection that gathers up their B-sides and unreleased demos, proves that their demise was indeed a tragedy. Led by Brent Kenji, The Fairways made gentle, heartfelt pop music that was surprisingly strong, and they never fell into the twee trap that so many of their contemporaries did. At times, their songs could be soft and gentle; songs like "Starstruck" and "Casino Lights" are lovingly loving and make you want to fall in love. Don't let that fool you,though; on "Don't Call Me Dear" they showed some muscle and a cynical side that make you realize that breaking Kenji's heart is not wise. He sings with a quiet whisper, and at times he sounds like a boy version of Amy Linton. The music is a soft, gentle pop-rock that blends a fine line between Nick Drake, The Association, The Turtles and Everything But The Girl's early acoustic pop. I'm a sucker for fingersnaps and multiple harmonies and vocal taglines, and they've got that in spades; orchestration could have done wonders for these already great songs, too. Credit is given to the person who decided to stagger the tracklisting; the album might not be chronological, but this is a good thing, as the weaker moments of their beginning stages blend in nicely with the maturity and experience of their final recordings. That you probably never heard the Fairways back then is not a shock, nor is it surprising to find yourself sad after listening to This Is Farewell is not a surprise, either. Kenji's got a new project, The Young Tradition, and bassist Jen Cohen went on to play in Aislers Set and now has a new band, Mystic Chords of Memory. True, the spark of brilliance that the Fairways had may never again be lit, but This is Farewell will always warm your soul.   --Mundane Sounds
Saying goodbye is never easy. Especially when you’ve got a mouthful of toast. However, the passing of the Fairways – one of the first bands that the fledgling Matinée label picked up on way back in 1998 – is tempered by the fact that they’ve left behind such a healthy body of work. There are eight new tracks featured here too, and they’re all jaunty little buggers that seem to worm their way into your heart without much effort at all. Fans will know what to expect here. Newcomers to the band will find only the best underground indie pop. Celebrate that!   --Tasty
A collection of tunes recorded in the last 6 years to mark the split of San Francisco’s Fairways, this is autumnal pop, caught between a cooling West Coast summery jangle and an early December be-cardiganed bowlie group cuddle. Highlights are ‘Don’t Call Me Dear’s quirky organ-ic underpin, the woozy, shoegazey cover of Walter Donaldson’s ‘Little White Lies and the refined twang of ‘Goodbye California’ on which they intone “We’ll see you again…” A fine way to say goodbye.   --Vanity Project