Guest review: Samuel Blum’s (Shame/Diemaker) take on Fell to Low @ The Smell (LA – 9.14.12)

Fell to Low might as well not be a real band. I’d be more comfortable if the Santa Barbara five-piece was a figment of my imagination or some intangible, passing thought swimming through my head. There are other bands that evoke a similar notion in me but for completely different reasons. I consider my taste stuck in a time capsule that spans from the late 80’s to the early 2000’s. Newer, recent acts that champion a more contemporary sound–while valiant in their efforts, usually fall somewhere short of impressing me.

If it’s not some kind of contrived originality or a forced, bratty attitude supplanting any and all quality songwriting, I’m usually cringing when I hear what kids on the street are calling “good,” these days. That’s why when I saw Fell to Low at the Smell last Friday, I was elated that the band playing in front of me was real. I didn’t even need to pinch myself. 
I spent a couple minutes talking to my friends in Fell to Low before their set. Bassist Nathan Zemke remarked how the Smell’s high ceilings would give their sound a washy, indecipherable quality. “We’re gonna sound like shit in this place,” he said. Nathan’s predictions couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

What strikes me as refreshing about FTL is their humility as a band. Maybe it’s what growing up in a place like Ojai, California—the serene and isolated offshoot of Ventura County—instills in people like my friend Walker Delbo, who plays drums in FTL. Walker writes most, if not all of Fell to Low’s music on guitar, then sits behind a drum kit and dictates the pacing and rhythm of the band’s tricky song structures. 

A lot of the time FTL’s songs revolve around two or three chords and how the band can subject those chords to different undulating variations. Their songs almost seem like a cognitive assessment for testing rhythmic musicianship. 

As for the show, FTL’s presence was easy to feel. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m a huge fan, obviously. But at the end of their 25 minute set that I’ve grown so partial to over the past 2 years, the goose bumps on my arms were testament to the fact that this band is very real, and scary good too. 

-Sam Blum




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