I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
…Unless I decide to skip around the alphabet. In fact, I believe I’ll skip around for all of March…
Safe is one interesting dude. Normally I’d be turned off by his hippie-cum-hipster shtick (former farmer, animal enthusiast, walking haircut, Montana-via-West Coast attitude – and hippie-cum-hipster? Those are two sides of the same coin…), but I’ve got to hand it to him – he’s transcended my judgmental attitude and released a sublime self-titled EP this past year. I didn’t really see much hype about it upon release, or even now, but Safe – aka CF Edley, aka Christopher Fairfield Edley III – is worth your while. Trust me. Have I steered you wrong yet?
Don’t answer that.
What you’ll notice, first and foremost, is the gentleness and sadness emanating from Edley’s songwriting. His voice, a deep, even baritone, recalls The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, but at times, most notably on what can almost be described as “pop hit” “Get Along Good,” he’s got this Neil Diamond thing going on, where his voice trails downward at the ends of the lines he’s singing. And this is a good thing, because we all know how great Neil Diamond is, amIright? Safe’s singing, like Diamond’s, is a soothing croon, in the range of his speaking voice, and even when the song’s sad you can kind of tell that he’s ready at any second to glance up at you with a warm smile, a look readymade for those “it’s going to be all right” moments that flit through great songs and lift your spirits. The chorus, “We can get along / We can get along good,” does just that.
Edley works with a bit of Caribbean inflection in his vocals as well, but it’s just a hint. Strange for a Missoula native, but workable here. And thank God, we’re not talking about full-blown reggae worship – I probably wouldn’t have survived the first listen. (Sue me, I’m not a reggae guy.) And that whole Montana hippie attitude I railed against above? Well, you can forget the forlorn, acoustic-guitar-backed, tear-in-your-PBR melodrama – the majority of the tracking is produced by synthesizer, which is why The Magnetic Fields remains a good starting point for the comparison discussion. There isn’t a lot of overt percussion though, as Safe lets the bloops and pulses shoulder the load. In fact, “Carefully Desperately,” itself a dead ringer for the title of a discarded Merritt tune, could adverbially describe Safe’s whole sound, the softness in his voice mixed with the pulsing of the inviting synths and keys balancing each other to a point of curious equilibrium. Yes, in short, it works.
Lyrically Edley muses on love, loss, freedom, and rebirth, wringing powerful reactions from the mundane and true thoughts and responses from the situations that run through his head. Witness the short “Holy Mess,” keyboard mimicking a vibraphone, wherein he intones “Long as you’re a movie star and I’m some dude here at the bar / well no one will be much impressed if I’m a holy, holy mess,” hoping for someone to come along and shake him from his obscure suffering. But on the very next song, “Loosen Up,” he’s encouraging someone else out of a similar funk, even if it spells their departure: “Loosen up your grip on this land / Get yourself back out to sea again.” The understatement of the vocals, the lyrics, and the minimal instrumentation underscore the range of feeling Edley, or anyone, is going/goes through, and while it relegates sheer, raw emotion to the background, the fact that it does so illustrates the effects of those dull, aching sentiments that are repressed.
But of course Safe is warm and, well, safe. And that’s the point – everybody at some stage will go through some personal hardship, and the universality of that truism is manifested in everyday disappointments – the ones that Safe sings about. Thank goodness for guys like CF Edley – those who understand these things, and can offer us a way to reflect and unite in the downs as well as the ups. Safe indeed.
Check Safe’s bandcamp here and download the Safe EP.
RIYL: The Magnetic Fields, Hayden, Freak Owls, Xiu Xiu, Neil Diamond