On his website, Devin Farney labels himself “Composer – Pianist – Teacher” which, ever so slightly, casts an admiring nod to wunderkinds like Richard Carpenter. The praise for his last LP, Is/Was, traffics in equally high ground. Terms like “suave,” “enthralling” and “distinctive” meld with more exciting descriptions of “tingling,” thus obviating a need for vibrators while enjoying the sound. And why blame the guy? Festooned with awards and commanding of intercontinental penetration, Farney’s works span the worlds of concert, film and commercial ventures. With a CV of this caliber, the man could very well be punching the air in victory behind closed doors. Even if, in website photos, he alternates from pensive to sad.
Gone With The River, the EP at hand, relays a “chamber pop vibe” that eschews MIDI in lieu of piano-driven exploration. At its core, this is a love note to tree huggers; an environmentally conscious piece of alarmism that touches on real world concerns (not to mention, those who dismiss them as hoaxes). To that point, just because you punctured the ozone with Aqua Net several decades prior doesn’t mean that you can’t repent through good old fashioned consumerism. Buying the album may not lower one’s carbon footprint, but it certainly allows for the spread of a cautionary mantra: We may all die. Or our kids may all die. Or, in the best case, we may lose a few million years and – per track two – be knocked back into invertebrate status. Cue Farney’s pensive mien.
At least melody can brighten impending doom. Recall that the orchestra of the RMS Titanic kept playing until each member drowned (which, if we’re keeping score, is one of the most punk things in music, ever). So when Farney crafts a song, he does so by appealing to his inner tunesmith, while saddling the lyrical content with a fuller burden. Enter the curious yet balanced paradox that defines the record.
“In Heaven,” the opener, swings in the vein of Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You,” trading Brooklyn cool for southern charm. So what if its main lyric “no it will not rain this year / or ever again” plays like Bob Geldof’s infamous reminder that “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time.” And while Farney’s version of Paradise is presumably less arid, his artistry and technique are on vivid display. Namely, the music sways gently in contradiction to the subject matter; encouraging those who don’t listen for lyrics to lock arms and smile while their crops burn.
‘Invertebrates (Back Where We Started)” parrots the vibe of Interpol, particularly on their single “All The Rage Back Home,” before quickly assuming a more complex air. Still, the permission to bob one’s head while absorbing a bevy of pessimism abounds. “This Is Fine” relishes in its catchier pop sensibilities, trading on early ’80s piano jive. It could just as well be Steely Dan on better cocaine, a less robotic incarnation of Supertramp or Swedish indie-pop darlings the Shout Out Louds. Likewise, “Yours To Keep,” the shortest cut, wavers between drag-infused dinner theater and a deconstructed attempt at miming Gershwin.
By the closing number, “It’s a Hoax!,” tongue-in-cheek absurdity becomes the goal. With this lighter touch, Farney uses humor to bludgeon climate change deniers and presumably those who pretend to recycle while sneaking all kinds of plastic bottles into their regular trash. Plus, the lyric “You’re never gonna make it / oh no” marks such a lively bridge, that it’s a pity how the artist didn’t structure an entire piece around it.
As an accomplished musician with a keen ear, Devin Farney’s credentials brighten that which – in the wrong hands – might’ve otherwise become a sludgy funereal dirge. In other words, buy the album. Or better yet, buy an electric car. If the planet falls to complete ruin, you’ll likely want the extra mileage.