Fable & The World Flat took close to four years between its great debut, Ladies & Gentlemen, and its follow-up, The Great Attractor. Less than half a year later, the Fable camp finished two more records. First came Soliloquy In Symphony, which is made up of six remixes of the Attractor track by local producers. Now comes Dark Flow, the band’s second full-length of the calendar year.
Following 59-second semi-interlude “Enter The Dark Flow” and all its atmospheric and instrumental glory, “Terra Incognita” lurches the album into motion. With a subtle vocal nod to modern Minus The Bear, the true opener is a somber yet sing-along-able start. Chaser “Pendulum Swinging” brings about a much needed defibrillator by way of some of Dark Flow’s livelier guitar work, not to mention the aid of a (surely synthetic) steel drum and the infectious duel refrain, “Last chance, I’ll go, / Unless you catch the fall, too late / You’ve got it, panic in your inquisition.”
From there, Dark Flow runs into a familiar reservoir of dismantled and dour electro-pop songs employed in much of The Great Attractor. “Hieroglyphs,” “End Games,” and “Unsigned Hype” seem submerged in a slurry of organ and drum machine that neither utilize Matthew Gorski’s percussive prowess to its full potential nor allow Steven Look’s distinct and tremendous voice to shine through a fog of vocal effects. Perhaps this lethargic turn was intentional (considering the album’s title and all), but it and joke-track bumper “Fable y el Año de Victoria”—centered around an English-speaking person calling a Spanish-language radio station in an effort to win free beer in a call-in contest—don’t play to Fable’s sleek and infinitely inventive songwriting strengths.
“The Guilty Are Innocent” is more like the far-from-flat incarnation of Fable we first met in Ladies & Gentlemen. With multi-layered instrumentation (pairing orchestral string work, record scratching, and an imposing bass line in unison) and pointed-yet-polished vocals, the late-disc dweller proves to be worth the wait. Finale “On Clouds” lulls Dark Flow to a subdued close with keen production and a return of Look’s smoothly delivered lines that incorporate Fable’s trademark lush aural expansiveness and intricate guitar parts.
Fable & The World Flat is killing 2013 in terms of volume of output. However, a band that set itself apart with a near-flawless debut in 2009 has somewhat skewed its quality-to-quantity ratio of late with a pair of hit-and-miss full-length efforts that, if pared down to one release, would be among the best albums put out in Milwaukee this year.
Fable & The World Flat celebrates the release of Dark Flow Friday, September 27 at The Hotel Foster as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s “Soundtrack” series. Catacombz and Dogs In Ecstasy open the show.