Growing up in Norfolk, VA and spending my college years in Richmond, VA, I thought that every professional musician began his or her career in a shitty pop-punk or hardcore band. Sure, Virginia had plenty of bands who played emo, indie rock, metal, metalcore or whatever other sub-genre you want to name, but it seemed like most of those bands were born from the dissolution of some earlier, much more generic band. This theory makes sense to me; kids who are excited about music have a great time throwing together three chords and re-writing “Blitzkrieg Bop” with different words, but eventually that formula gets boring and artistic ambition leads people to the more musically fulfilling pastures of indie rock and metal.
But living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a few months has made me realize that this isn’t the case at all. Kids here still start bands that shamelessly imitate the stuff that they listen to, but the kids here don’t listen to Screeching Weasel or Gorilla Biscuits, they listen to Radiohead and Superchunk. Therefore, while the music they make is no more sophisticated than their Virginian brethren, it sounds radically different. Whereas the bands I saw back in Virginia were pretty straightforward, teenagers in Chapel Hill spice up their odes to their first ex-girlfriend and rants against their principals with electronic drumbeats, ambient keyboard noises and metaphorical lyrics.
While Fairburn Royals aren’t from North Carolina and they are a lot further along than the type of high school bands I’m talking about, it’s pretty obvious that the people in this band were in their position at one time in their lives. Though the Royals’ arrangements are spacious and rhythmically-driven they are hardly sophisticated and the versions that appear on From a Window Way Above are far from being flawlessly performed. What you find on this record is the sound of kids approximating the music they love, doing their best to sound a certain way but not quite getting it right.
That’s not to say that From a Window Way Above is a bad record; it’s actually pretty good. In the same way that teenage pop punk is almost always performed with the exuberance that youth has in spades, Fairburn Royals attack their indie rock viciously, almost like a punk band. While The Bends-era Radiohead probably would have cast off the riff to “Anti-drug” as too simplistic, the Fairburn Royals rip into it like a slab of raw meat.
However, there is an extremely high cheese factor pervading From a Window Way Above. Sometimes it’s sonic cheesiness, as in the wooshing sounds that only succeed in getting in the way of “These Aren’t Mistakes,” but most of the time it’s lyrical cheesiness, which reaches its high-water mark on “Be My Punk Rock Friend.” The singer awkwardly speak-sings, “Well I like the Ramones and I like the Misfits / I like the Clash and I kinda like Rancid,” but “all the mohawks and spikes and the chains and the leather will make it all fine / will make it all better / you’re not gonna change the world by acting pissed off at everyone / so sit back relax and smile / might even get laid.” While the attitudes and sentiments of this song may be indie, the methods and the level of eloquence are definitely on the level of high school punk.
But “Be My Punk Rock Friend” gets on my nerves for more than just its lyrical simplicity. This song makes me realize why I wasn’t an indie kid when I was in high school; I actually did care about changing the world. And contrary to what this lyricists’ assertion implies, I was well aware that my own thoughts and actions probably wouldn’t directly result in a change in national or international policy, but I knew that even a small change for the better is worthwhile, and its certainly time better spent than “getting laid.” So the lyricist asking, “Can we not be friends because I listen to Radiohead?” doesn’t get at the real question at all; it isn’t the style of music but what you hope to get from it, and since one’s quest to get laid would probably be better served by buying a bottle of cheap cologne with the money you would spend on this record I’d say you won’t be getting much from the Fairburn Royals.