“Fly Around” – Water Tower

3 stars (out of 5)


Where do you start with an album like this? Probably with the straightforward stuff. Water Tower (formerly Water Tower Bucket Boys) is the creation of Kenny Feinstein trying to realise his artistic vision. If you take songs created in the bluegrass/string band tradition and throw punk and psychedelia into the mix, then you’re getting somewhere close to understanding this album. Just when you think you can see the shape of the curve, it veers off in a completely different direction. And if you’re interested in picking out influences, “Fly Around” is packed with them.

The first three songs wouldn’t sound out of place on any Americana album. “Fromage” is a traditional string band arrangement telling a story of busking in Paris and doing the Jim Morrison and Debussy tourist thing. “Fly Around” is a spirited piece of ensemble playing reworking a traditional tune, while “Bobcats” is a country/rock waltz featuring fiddles and Beach Boys harmonies. And then there’s a seismic shift.

“Come Down Easy” (a Spacemen 3 cover referencing 1987, Kenny Feinstein’s birth year) still has the fiddles and the harmonies but that’s where the resemblance ends. The rhythmic pulse pounds relentlessly through the wall of sound arrangement as a burbling synth line cuts through the murk and drawled vocals. Is it about drugs? Of course it is, it was co-written by Jason Pierce. After the brief interlude of “Town”, another gentle piece of country rock with a bit of synth, on the theme of moving on, the album goes stratospheric; literally. “Mile High Club” sounds a bit like a Steve Miller intro; Shags Chamberlain plays an analogue synth instrumental evoking the flight from Portland to LA that also features some audio samples of announcements from LAX. It’s a complete curveball, but it makes the following song, “Classic Misdirection” seem less incongruous. It’s a rock song that sets out to pack in as many musical and lyrical clichés as possible in just over three minutes and succeeds effortlessly. I’m not going to spoil the fun for you; just enjoy the cliché treasure hunt.

“Fly Abound” is reworking of the earlier “Fly Around” with new words and melody, while the uptempo string band arrangement of “It’s Wrong”, with its harmonies and mandolin solos describes that all-too-familiar feeling of knowing that something’s wrong, but doing it anyway. Which takes us nicely into the closer “Anthem”. The opening guitar chord has more than a hint of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” before the song erupts into furious folk-punk romp that pulls in elements from the rest of the album for a grandstand finish. The song may be about giving up drugs or starting the cycle again; it definitely leads us back to the beginning of the album, where the cycle starts all over again.

“Fly Around” is a genre-bending smorgasbord of musical and lyrical styles that constantly surprises on its journey from cultural exploration and drug abuse through relocation and back to the beginning of the cycle. You won’t be bored.

“Fly Around” is released in the UK on May 21st on Dutch Records (DUTCH016-2).

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