Review: Fiddlehead’s “Between the Richness” Beats the Sophomore Slump in a Big Way
Just about every music fan dreads the second album released by a band that they love. In a way, you might almost want a band that you love to never release a follow-up to their debut, allowing their first effort to exist on its own forever, with nothing to compare it to and no possibility of being let down.
For a while, it seemed like Fiddlehead might be one of those bands that never made a second record, releasing the 2014 EP “Out of the Bloom” and 2018’s iconic album “Springtime and Blind” and “retiring.” As someone who enthusiastically supports everything that this band does, I obviously wanted new music, but I would’ve been perfectly fine with their debut full-length standing on its own - it’s a masterpiece. You can read my full retrospective review of that record via Legends of Tomorrow.
However, once the band dropped their singles “Get My Mind Right” and “Stay in the Room” in late 2019, it was clear that they weren’t done yet. Anticipation grew, culminating in the single “Million Times”, whose release accompanied the announcement of the album.
It was later revealed that Fiddlehead wasn’t really supposed to record a second album, but, in reality, they weren’t really supposed to record their first one either. This band began as an outlet for hardcore heavyweight Have Heart’s frontman Pat Flynn to express his feelings during a dark time in his life, dealing with the loss of his father.
This period of intense emotion resulted in the aforementioned “Out of the Bloom” and, ultimately, “Springtime and Blind.” The response to these releases in a live setting was enough to make the band take themselves, and the project, a bit more seriously; according to Flynn via Idioteq, “Kids were singing along in a very desperate way and we realized it wasn’t just resonating with us, it was resonating with these people in a really meaningful way.”
So, fast forward to 2021, and “Between the Richness” is out. Did Fiddlehead beat the second album curse? In a word, yes.
Just over one minute long, the first track “Grief Motif”, helps to set the tone for the rest of the record. It opens with the spoken line, “I carry your heart with me / I carry it in my heart / I am never without it / Anywhere I go, you go”, taken from the poem “I Carry Your Heart” by E.E. Cummings.
The lyrics that follow this sample, though repetitive, are delivered passionately (as always) by Flynn, the phrase “fall apart” present at the end of each line. In an interview with Upset Magazine, he stated that this song was meant to address the fact that this was yet another FIddlehead record about dark subject matter, primarily death. This reasoning makes the repetition feel purposeful, expressing the vocalist’s eternal grief.
This opening track transitions seamlessly into “The Years”, essentially a “part two” to “Grief Motif.” While the first song showcases the dark side of death and grief, the latter is a lot brighter both sonically and lyrically, discussing moving on after death in lines like “Nothing can change the pain and I don’t want it to / The sting of blinding spring is what’s left of you / But, ‘Get up! Get out! Go on!’ are all the signs I see / What would you think of me? / You have to find your way out (Get out, go on) / You know what I think now (Move out but hold on).”
Track three, “Million Times” was released as the first single from “Between the Richness”, coupled with the album announcement. This is more of the same upbeat alternative rock goodness, this time paired with lyrics about Flynn’s breakup and eventual reunion with his high school sweetheart, the woman who would become his wife. You can read more of my thoughts on the track in my full review via Legends of Tomorrow.
My personal favorite song on this album, “Eternal You” packs years of energy and passion into just under two-and-a-half minutes, seeing Flynn sing about his lifelong best friend over fast-paced guitar riffs. The turbulent first half of this track fades into a slower second act, as the vocalist talks about his friend and how much their bond has meant to him.
The change of pace sonically mirrors the change in pace of their lives, the chaos of high school to the eventual peace of retirement. You can really tell how special this relationship, as Flynn speaks “We’re much older now, but all still feels the same / Recently I had a little boy and find myself constantly thinking about the people he’ll meet in his life / I hope he makes at least one friendship like the one Ryan and I have - one that adores, and never seems to age.”
While Fiddlehead has numerous songs about grief and dealing with death, something they had never really done before this album was release a straightforward love song. Sure, there were moments on “Springtime and Blind” that showcased the bond between Flynn’s parents, it was always laced with the sadness of knowing that his mother was alive, and his father was not.
In “Loverman”, we find our first traditional love song from the band, through and through a ballad that the frontman wrote about his wife and how grateful he is for her. When asked about the song via Upset Magazine, Flynn said, “I suppose this song highlights the lovely outcome thus far in our story, one I wish my father could have been around for as he loved my best friend now-wife so much and thought our time as teens was a worthy cause to make work.”
The third and final single released preceding “Between the Richness”, the lyrical content of “Down University” strays a bit from the central themes of the record, but still has a message worth hearing. Flynn, a history teacher, wrote this track about those who think that academic status or a certain level of education can make someone better or more important than someone else.
Discussing the song with Upset, he said, “My parents protected me from the bullshit social Darwinian obsession of attaining some ridiculous level of elite status by way of education. I was always told my education was for my soul, the enrichment of my life and how it can contribute to building a world better than the way I found it...After [my father] passed, I, somehow in the weird perversions of grief, became overly obsessed with attaining some BS level of ‘prestige’ via my education. It was not healthy for my soul to have such a warped sense of self-doubt and excessive standard. I became crushed at the prospect of having anything less than a perfect resume featuring the best schools.” As a high school senior about to enter college myself, this song’s lyrics are comforting in a way, a reminder that education is education, regardless of where you’ve attended or how long it took you.
There’s also a high school cheerleader-esque chant that occurs a few times in this song, shouting various schools’ names before Flynn proclaims, “No onе cares / It’s just a name / You are morе than a degree / I don’t care what you make / It’s who you love and what you gave.” There’s just something empowering about this song, and it certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do; I can’t wait to hear a room full of scared kids like me yelling “Hyde Park! / Precious Blood! / Latin School! / USMA! / Emmanuel! / BC! / Columbia! / Graduate!” at the first Fiddlehead show post-COVID-19.
Though initially released in fall 2019, “Get My Mind Right” feels revitalized in its place as track seven on “Between the Richness.” When the song first dropped, the frontman told Stereo Gum, “‘Get My Mind Right,’ is a song trying to revolt against a state of quiet desperation, largely brought on by the feeling of being left behind. Sometimes, living in isolation, like a small, quiet town that seems to slow the passing of time to a grinding halt, can further exacerbate the desperation to a point where one is left with the only option of asking for anyone to help. Resolution, however, can come from the understanding that we are all the masters of our own minds and that we, ourselves, decide how to navigate the depressing paradoxical path of a life that seems to go too fast and go nowhere at the same time.”
That desperation is communicated perfectly through Flynn’s vocal delivery - he’s not singing, he’s pleading, with himself, with the world, with anyone who will listen. While there have been countless songs written about feeling suffocated in your hometown, “Get My Mind Right” is a fresh take on it, one that I’m glad is back in my rotation.
Also worth noting is the small change towards the end of the song, where Flynn sings “You've got a lot, Pat / Of life left / You're not hopeless / Make up the mind to find your motion” to himself, rather than to his sister Tess, who this verse was sung to on the single version. It slightly alters the meaning of the song too, making listeners look inward towards themselves, being pushed to make a change for themselves.
While I previously called “Grief Motif” the counterpart to “The Years”, there’s another, more unlikely pair of songs that go together later on this record - “Eternal You” and “Life Notice.” While “Eternal You” is about Flynn’s lifelong best friend who he plans to grow old with, the latter is about his wife’s best friend who died due to a drug overdose.
The inspiration for the song came from how lifeless the announcement of this friend’s death, was, simply stating, “Heather Elizabeth Johnson of Hyannis died at the age of 34.” According to Flynn, “One's life deserves so much more poetry than that.”
The track begins with his wife reading Johnson’s eulogy, a jarring and beautiful opening that sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the song. While pretty much every Fiddlehead song is jam-packed with emotion, there’s something so crushing about this one in particular, and it’s sure to be a standout track in their discography for years to come.
Serving as the penultimate moment on this release, “Joyboy” is a softer song sonically, but is probably the most vulnerable two minutes on “Between the Richness.” Flynn calls these lyrics “an imagination of how [my father] may feel observing [my son and I] together, unable to be with us, in the way that I play with my son and pause to wonder about the sadness of his absence.”
Lines like “Sadman, in distant land, is after life a land of blue?” and “This little light’s named after you” bring this concept to life, and truly make you feel all of the feelings that the frontman has wrapped this song in. The instrumental itself feels incredibly melancholy and bittersweet, matching the lyrical tone perfectly.
Closing out this record is “Heart to Heart”, an absolute dynamo of a final track. I was a bit shocked that it was released as the album’s second single, and while I loved it on its own, it holds so much more meaning with the context of the rest of this LP.
Lyrically, this song doubles as both a letter from Flynn to his son when he passes away and leaves him behind as well as a letter from Flynn’s own father to him from above. His vocals are some of his best, delivering such sentimental phrases with an almost ferocious tone.
The track closes with the closing lines of the aforementioned E. E. Cummings poem, the record ending the same way that it started; “ And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart / I carry your heart / I carry it in my heart.” To read more of my thoughts on this amazing closer, my full review of the song can be found via Legends of Tomorrow.
It’s evident that the past few years since Flynn’s father’s death and even the past few years since the release of “Springtime and Blind” have changed him for the better. He got married, had a child, and is even further removed from an event that caused him so much grief.
However, this passage of time isn’t a bad thing at all. Flynn’s outlook seems to have changed for the better on just about everything that he has sung about on both albums, making this a beautiful companion piece to the band’s debut.
“Between the Richness” is about exactly what the title says it’s about; what happens between the richness, in between the dramatic things in our lives, in between life and death, in between love and sorrow. This record bridges the gap between these intense events and emotions, providing us a safe place for us to dwell as we process and reflect on them; a place Between The Richness.
Fiddlehead’s incredible sophomore effort “Between the Richness” is available to stream wherever you listen to music. You can support the band by picking up some merch, including physical copies of and items themed around the new record, via their website as well as via Run For Cover Records, and you can keep up with them on Instagram @FiddleheadUSA, Twitter @FiddleheadUSA, and Facebook @FiddleheadMA.
If you’ve listened to this record (please listen to it), feel free to let me know what you thought of it by tweeting me @JENSESSlON! To be the first to know when new articles are posted, be sure to follow the blog on Instagram @StrawberrySkiesBlog, Twitter @StrawbSkiesBlog, and Facebook @StrawberrySkiesBlog.