Using a palette of guitars with a restrained sprinkling of bass, piano, and violin, 'fō has managed to create a soundscape that is, on the surface, something akin to folk music. But not trendy "indie folk:" upon closer inspection, the simplicity of the music is actually hiding a sensibility that reflects a great deal of emotion and import. A seething sense of foreboding blankets this collection of ten songs--under the folksy veneer is something waiting to happen...something waiting for you. And this is achieved not only with his smooth voice (which is heavy with inflection and meaning--his acting experience clearly helps with this) but with the sparse yet incredibly effective orchestrations. The result is a spooky, chilling anxiety. These songs let the wind blow through them, making a gentle, howling sound. They are mournful but not impotent with sorrow, far from it--there remains a sense that these songs could reach out and grab you with a cold hand. They, and he, mean business. "Pay attention," they whisper to you, "...or else..."
In a collection of goose bump moments, there are a few which really stand out. The album opens with a seemingly innocent song called "String:" as 'fō sings, "You've got somebody to love/you've got it all/...You've got the world on a string/you've got it all/You've got the world on a string/you've got the man by the balls," random piano notes meander under the guitar until a glorious but brief string section blooms forth. The effect is startling and electrifying.
A keening violin and bass are anchored by the somber, faraway explosion of a bass drum in "Blue Room."
"North" seems like a swinging little ditty until it is punctured by eerie, skittering strings (a genius touch).
There is some delicious tension in "Chase" with a controlled but fed-up outburst: "Wanna go to sleep/give it all a rest/but you wanna change the world/wanna be the best...and you smile like a crook/smash the window out/and you're just out of reach/oh yes, you're worth your weight in gold/it'll be great, just great, really great."
"Faded" features arresting, insidious percussion and breathtaking vocal work, particularly some swoon-worthy, off-kilter harmony near the end of the song.
Comparisons to Nick Drake are inevitable and while I love Drake and the sadly small catalog he left behind (only three albums before his untimely death in 1974, either by accidental overdose of anti-depressants or deliberate suicide), the music on 'fō's eponymous debut is what I always yearned for Drake's music to be: immediate, commanding, dire, and understanding not only of melancholy, but of what lies beyond it and what it means to be able to "go there" and return, at will.
Here, again, is the stealthy, crafty "North."
And the hypnotizing "Sleep."
The album is available on iTunes. Visit 'fō's official website for more information: