As songwriter and de facto frontman of the deliciously eccentric pop collective Guillemots, Fyfe Dangerfield has already established a sufficient reputation as a versatile and talented musician. His work with his motley crew of contributors has lead to a Mercury Prize nomination (for 2006's Through the Windowpane) and moderate chart success, but they've also become infamous for their clutter of influences and overly adventurous arrangements. Perhaps deemed too conventional for release with Guillemots, Fly Yellow Moon benefits greatly from its uncomplicated scope and stripped-down recording style.
Even when Dangerfield does revert to his erstwhile sound, densely layering his songs with irregular vocal ticks and slapdash ivory tinkling, the album manages to retain an intimacy and focus that 2008's Red was guilty of abandoning at a very early stage. Indeed, though album opener "When You Walk in the Room" recalls the sonics of his earlier work to a turn, its simple verse-chorus-verse structure prevents the track from ever sounding overindulgent. Bookended by the singer's diverse arsenal of wails and whispers, it saunters along a bubbly piano melody with intermittent lead guitar licks. Dangerfield delivers throaty verses, hitting every note with aplomb, and drifts off into his trademark falsetto for the exquisite refrain, "I want you endlessly."
It's a similar story with lead single "She Needs Me," catching Dangerfield in unabashed Guillemots-mode, drawing on a number of multifarious sounds. The gorgeous falsetto chorus is reinforced with grandiose string arrangements, and the verses are ushered in with a throbbing horn section and distorted guitar solo. These spirited power-pop ditties are glowing examples of the album's beguiling nature, showcased with just enough rough around the edges to retain Dangerfield's indie credibility.
Fly Yellow Moon's softer entries are almost equally well-executed, nestling into a crawlspace between the music of Damien Rice and Leonard Cohen. "So Brand New" veers more toward the latter, as Dangerfield murmurs to an unadorned four-chord acoustic melody. And in "Don't Be Shy" he gently whispers atop fingerpicked guitar work, illuminating his ear for reflective Cohen-esque balladry. Things are kept astonishingly simple, but Dangerfield clearly has the voice and songwriting nous to keep things engaging. In a more ambitious stab at a chamber ballad, hushed piano notes and strings are incorporated to craft the graceful and haunting "Firebird." Several vocal harmonies are layered over one another, recalling a courtly lullaby as our resident minstrel richly sighs, "Some come beautiful, helpless and warm/Like the first drop of water, after the storm." (The instances where Dangerfield staggers into Damien Rice territory prove less fruitful though. Both "Live Wire" and "Any Direction" are forgettable numbers, impaired by their hackneyed couplets and lackluster delivery.)
"High on the Tide" settles somewhere between the intimate and the flamboyant, an upbeat acoustic jaunt complete with seaside sound effects (children playing, waves crashing, birds singing), whistling interludes and a charm-your-pants-off refrain: "High on the tide, can in my hand going down so sweetly/High on the tide, don't wake me up and tell me that I'm dreaming." And though it's accented with more force than its forerunner, "Faster Than the Setting Sun" is another compromise amid the record's two extremes. The piano line is almost completely overwhelmed by aggressive percussion and wailing guitars, but there's no disputing that Dangerfield's vocals take center stage here.
Essentially, Dangerfield's aural wizardry is the showpiece of the entire album. His effortless glides into falsetto are unfailing highlights, but he's also accomplished in his more restrained crooning. And with these more modest compositions, his talents as a credible songwriter are underlined throughout. It may lack the boundary-pushing imagination of his work with Guillemots, but Fly Yellow Moon is a charming bout of champagne pop.