One man's poignant ache devolves quickly into melodrama and then parody—depending on your level of sympathy, of course. While Will Oldham was able convey a parched, hopeless resilience with his hoarse, cracking vocals on tracks like "Agnes, Queen of Sorrow," Oldham's spare, understated arrangements stood out against complaint rock's overwhelming volume. Such moves sound significantly less novel in his wake.
So while it's possible to appreciate David Karsten Daniels' desire to go in the opposite direction after the lushly arranged and oftentimes beautiful Sharp Teeth, the result is more difficult to stomach. These songs, largely about the pains of both disconnect and intimacy with family members, spill entrails across near empty backdrops, rarely making much musical progress. The downbeat tone is particularly handicapping on an album so devoid of hooks.
No one's expecting a pop song, exactly, but Fear of Flying's back half is moribund and, what's worse, colorless. Other than the rootsy, gospel-tinged footstomper, "Oh, Heaven Isn't Real," there's hardly a pulse during the B side, requiring one helluva attention span to glean much enjoyment.
Only the second, third and fourth tracks escape the somber musical morass: The restrained, folk-tinged drone of "That Knot Unties," while still spare, sounds fully formed. There's the haunted, piano noir of "Falling Down," whose spirit matches its tale of an out-of-control vehicle flying between the trees, "approaching terminal velocity." But the highlight is the jangling, organ-abetted, two-minute ditty "Martha Ann," in which Daniels asks, "But in your dark where is that spark, the little light that you can put your faith in?" "I wanna trust that everything will be all right," he answers. Hopefully, next time, it will be.