Harm Farm

  • Harm Farm
  • Spawn (Alias) 1990 
  • Nice Job, Einstein (Alias) 1991 

Because of their San Francisco home, prominent use of violin and spirited instrumental forays into ethnic territories, Harm Farm has no doubt gotten used to seeing the name Camper Van Beethoven mentioned in the first paragraphs of their clippings. CVB’s hijacking of original violinist Morgan Fichter would have doomed lesser bands, but Harm Farm survived, stronger than ever. Drummer Noah Chasin deftly jumped to fiddle, and Melanie Clarin (who played vital roles in the exceptional recorded outputs of both the Cat Heads and Donner Party) stepped in behind the skins. Produced by Henry Kaiser, Spawn is Appalachian mountain music on a skewer, waved about in all directions, raising up dust, and spearing bits of whatever it finds. The quartet is at its impressive best on wild twisted-tempo medleys like “Sleep/Señor Tuchus” and “Snapdragons→Greeneyedgirl,” and at its excusable worst on the intentionally silly (but still fairly irritating) “Clams.” Strong debut.

With a new producer behind the board, the same quartet made the vocally and stylistically diverse Nice Job, Einstein, revving up the rock energy as well as the jazzbo complexity (“Taunting the Drowsy”) while retaining the violin-driven nods to rustic Americana and Celtic folk (“Ed’s Bait Shop”).  So while “In That Land” and “Glorious” sound like a transplanted Fairport Convention, “A Fine Elixir” is an off-kilter reel and “Transgressions” leans toward prog rock. Lots more invention than cohesion, but a fine romp throughout. The CD contains three songs not on the LP.

[Steven Grant]

See also: Camper Van Beethoven, Cat Heads, Donner Party