I’ve been pretty forthright about my personal relationship with Fort Frances’ lead singer/songwriter David McMillin. We’re friends, I assume he would agree. I’ve also not been shy about how much I love the music Fort Frances makes, and that started before I ever met David. So when we met up a few weeks ago at a local malt shop to grab a couple sodas, we had a nice long chat about anything and everything under the sun. Secretly, though, I was just biding my time until he slipped me the disc with the five songs that make up the bands new EP, Harbour. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great chat and the time flew by as the sodas kept coming. But I love music, and in this instance, he was holding on to something I had been waiting to hear for months.
When I got home I popped the CD into the computer and hit play. The first track is “City By The Sea,” which they’d already released as a single/free download to start some buzz around the EP. A while back David came to Handwritten and played a solo version of the song on piano just a few days after it was written. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve heard over there. So hearing the new version with Jeff and Aaron adding many more layers, it was hard for me to make the adjustment. The solo version is so stark and haunting, it just has that feeling of longing that makes it so beautiful. The full version loses a bit of that feeling, but it makes up for it by turning that one voice into many-misery loves company and the harmonies add a little sweetness and sunshine.
There are two songs of the five that I hadn’t heard completed versions of before. The second song, “Truths I Used To Know,” has popped up on some setlists I’ve seen, but not at the shows I’ve been to. It’s a beautifully written song, full of anguish and self-doubt. McMillin has a talent for making even the darkest material relatable, and it’s no different here. Lyrically this is my favorite song on Harbour, if only for this line:
“We were just situational lovers. The kind that help the day move along. But I burned all my minutes, and traded all my troubles for a year out on my own. I compromised my heart, and the truths I used to know.”
“How To Turn Back Again” has been one of my favorite Fort Frances songs since I heard them play it at Schubas about a year ago. Of the songs on Harbour, this one feels the most like a continuation from their debut LP, The Atlas. It shares a lot of the same soundscape that makes up that album, but doesn’t necessarily seem like a toss-off either. Their previous album was a well-crafted ten songs that didn’t need anything else. This song was probably written shortly after that release while those songs were still very much in the band’s bones. Here’s a clip of them playing it live about 18 months ago:
“Please, Don’t Wait Up” is a brand new song that I had absolutely no knowledge of before it came on. It’s funny, because when we left the malt shop David told me, “I really think you’re gonna dig the fourth track.” And wouldn’t you guess what my favorite song on Harbour ended up being? It’s so well-constructed that I don’t even know where to start. I think if Jonny Greenwood were a singer/songwriter instead of an instrumentalist, this is the kind of music he would make. There’s a keyboard element, where it just plays the same note over and over again in the background, that’s just brilliant. I could listen to this song over and over again on repeat and find something new to love about it every time, so just be prepared to wear out your rewind button.
The final track is the ever-joyful “I Had Love.” It’s a foot-stompin’ sing-a-long that should have hundreds of voices echoing through the various music venues Fort Frances will soon be playing. This is the kind of song that just fills you up with good feelings. There is a bit of an ominous bridge in the middle that gives the song a nice edge, but in the end it’s a crowd-pleasing love song in the best way.
Fort Frances writes great pop/rock songs that put equal emphasis on lyric and melody. If you haven’t heard them yet, you still have a few weeks before Harbour comes out on April 23rd to listen to The Atlas. You can also check out “The Lowlands” as well as a series of covers they’ve been working on. If you’re interested in seeing them live, you can head out to Schubas (Chicago) on May 5th. If you’re not from around these parts, you can see their tour dates on Facebook.