Farmer’s Wake is the debut full-length album by South Carolina-based and Southern Gothic themed Alt-Country band Fonta Flora. The duo consists of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Robert A Maynor IV and lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dosher. Fonta Flora’s folksy brand of Alt-Country carries the rustic tonalities expressive of grim, glum and sometimes lonesome backwoods living. Fair enough. But aesthetics can be an empty shell, and as the album played out I found myself in familiar territory.
It all started innocently enough, but steadily as the album progresses I find an uncomfortable creeping sense of irritation. Some of the album’s more deficient aspects are covered by the duo’s songwriting abilities. But even highlights on Farmer’s Wake, such as the lead guitar melody on track Planetary Haze are shot out of focus by goofy lyrical content.
5 songs in and I think I may just be a ‘whiskey’ short of winning Southern-cliche bingo. We got a ‘I work all day’, ‘lord’ this, ‘lord’ that, ‘devil’ this and a ‘devil’ that. I stopped keeping track. Farmer’s Wake is an album that gets progressively worse with its cliches; more and more in your face, more grating with each passing minute.
Alt-Country like this is something straight out of the creative class, somewhat distanced from the ‘salt of the earth’ people the genre usually attempts to represent or pose as. That’s okay, I don’t expect Lord Worm, former vocalist of Canadian Death Metal band Cryptopsy, to have actually been “in the kitchen, with a screaming triple-amputee” who he is cannibalizing, let alone any of the other things depicted on None So Vile (1996) to be true.
But while more conservative attitudes to music try to distance themselves from the splendor of showmanship, music is and always has been a show. Music and its marginalia- album art, flyers, drama, lore and legend- have become their own theatre since recorded music (if they haven’t always been).
With the ‘theatre’ of music in mind, what’s so grating about Farmer’s Wake is that Fonta Flora’s strengths- the album’s highlights- are left as pretty ornamentation surrounding the album’s hokey celebration of what is a troubled and depressing trope of Southern identity (not to mention the obvious atrocities pervading conversations around Southern identity). Like a theatre-kid out of their league, there is an unacquired gravitas in the album’s approach to its subject matter which makes it feel lifeless (at best).
Where to go form here? I’m uncertain. But both Dosher and Maynor prove themselves to be talented and multifaceted musicians. Perhaps a shirking of established tropes will let them find something that both highlights their musicianship and resonates with a more nuanced emotional palette.
For fans of: Old Crow Medicine Show, Sons of Perdition, The Dead South