Nate Scheible, "Fairfax"
Originally released on cassette back in 2017 on London's seemingly now defunct ACR label, this absolutely brilliant album failed to reach enough ears to make much of an impact the first time it surfaced. Thankfully, the Slovakian Warm Winters Ltd. label has now reissued this obscure masterpiece (now remastered by Lawrence English) to appropriately universal acclaim. The premise of the album is admittedly a modest one on paper, as Scheible simply presents some excerpts from a cassette scavenged from a second-hand store over a minimal backdrop of ambient/drone music. The crucial detail, however, is that the appropriated recording feels like a strong contender for the greatest thrift store find of the century, intimately documenting the joys and heartaches of a lonely but irrepressibly hopeful middle-aged woman as she waits to be reunited with the love of her life. Beyond that, virtually nothing is known about the album's anonymous heroine or what series of circumstances led to something so personal winding up in a Virginia thrift store. Everyone loves a good mystery, of course, but that aspect of this album feels almost irrelevant once the unknown woman starts talking, as her openness and vulnerability pack one hell of an emotional wallop. Sadly, life was not easy at all for the album's unwitting protagonist, so there are some truly heartbreaking passages to be found, but they are mingled with some others that fill me with an uncharacteristic sense of warmth and connection for the rest of humanity. In short, Fairfax essentially distills all of the joy and pain of life's rich pageant into one perfect record.
The album opens with quite an emotion gut punch, as a simple message of "good morning, my love" immediately turns dark, as the unknown woman immediately realizes that she has confused October and April and announces that she is "not well" (a message furthered darkened by Scheible's minimal backdrop of brooding drones). Things initially seem like they are brightening a bit in the following "After Work on Monday Afternoon," as she talks about how excited she was to receive a letter from her love, but the situation quickly becomes unsettling once more when she mentions that she has read the letter over and over again and gently chastises the letter writer for being "about nine letters behind" (there were some letters that she forgot to number). She then fades away to leave behind a gorgeous coda of swaying, spacey ambiance with frayed, hissing edges. It feels like reality has unexpectedly dissolved into some kind of immersively hallucinatory state of suspended animation. Thankfully, our heroine briefly brightens up for "Our Doubts Are Traitors," as she recites an inspirational poem over some pleasant ambient shimmer. That shimmer gradually becomes curdled and darkened by ugly harmonies and gnarled textures though, which paves the way for next two devastating gut punches: the stand-up bass jazz noir of "Made to Feel Special" and uneasy spectral drift of "Thrilled to Death."
Both pieces are likely to haunt me forever, as will the bittersweetly beautiful "With Any Kind of Luck" that follows, in which the protagonist struggles to keep her composure as she laments how lonely she is and how much she longs for her lover's arms around her. While it features some of the most poignant and lovely music on the album, I am damn glad that the album does not end there, as I would probably be sobbing uncontrollably right now. Fortunately, it does not, as it is followed by an instrumental reprise of "Monday Afternoon" entitled "Together Again" and a crushingly beautiful final piece ("There's Nothing That Says I Cannot Dream") in which the woman sounds genuinely happy and hopeful ("Fairfax today is looking unusually beautiful...it's one of the days like it was when we first met"). That final piece is probably one of the most moving and hauntingly beautiful pieces of music that I have ever heard, which is fitting given that Fairfax is one of the most moving and hauntingly beautiful albums that I have heard as well. This is a stone-cold masterpiece from start to finish.
Samples can be found here.