Darkness Brings The Wonders Home by Smoke FairiesRelease date: January 31, 2020
Label: Year Seven Records
Way back in August of last year Smoke Fairies released the single ‘Out of the Woods’, heralding the arrival of their first album in four years – Darkness Brings The Wonders Home. Fans of the band were delighted with the song and the new direction that song and B side ‘Disconnect’ promised. Featuring a much tougher garage blues guitar sound, akin to The White Stripes, aligned to their hallmark gothic folksiness ‘Out of the Woods’ remains a fabulously bewitching, powerful statement.
Of course the band, made up of duo Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire, originally from Chichester, were famously the first British act to release a single on Jack White’s Third Man Label – the double A side ‘Gastown / River Song’. However, whilst Jack White both produced and played on those tracks the band has traditionally operated in a more refined idiom of picked semi-acoustic guitars and those haunting, willowy twin vocal harmonies. It’s a style that has lead to them being described as ‘dream pop’ which was never particularly helpful and seems particularly wide of the mark now.
Whilst Jessica and Katherine’s vocals continue to intertwine, serpentine but pure, much of the music on Darkness...takes its lead from American rock music. Undoubtedly recording in Seattle must have had an effect, especially in the gnarled guitar sound which most reminds me of the playing of Seattle natives, Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel a.k.a.Two Gallants.
In the press release, referring to the album’s title Jessica says “Times of darkness are when people are often the most imaginative…It helps you to see all the wonders of the world you hadn’t noticed before – the things you’ve been blind to because you’ve been on autopilot for so long.”
As you’d expect from a band steeped in British folk music, a connection with nature and the earth is conjured and quoted as inspiration but repeated listens to this album leave me convinced this album is about distances, not connections to earth or others. Over a fabulously spiky riff on ‘Disconnect’ the duo croon “I’m always fighting with what I believe and what is true” and as a blurry, urgent riff kicks in the chorus repeats “lost in your own world, you’re looking for no one” seemingly expressing a desire to join them, to meld not for greater understanding, but just to subsume themselves in something disappearing into darkness or reverie. I’m really reminded of the early Gemma Hayes albums on this tune.
On ‘Coffee Shop Blues’ the band sink into a melancholy remembrance of their time in New Orleans where they lived for a year in 2002. There is an air of regret and reproach, as if mourning a life lost. The past very much a foreign land, unattainable and alien.
On the staggeringly effective and dramatic tale of lost love ‘Out of The Woods’ the waiting lover spurned cries “I wanted to follow you but you cut your path straight through me”. The roots they grew into their love burned away they’ve now become invisible, waiting in vain for them to re-emerge from the woods, suggesting emotional distance as a defence mechanism may be the real issue.
The lyrics are a triumph of subtle storytelling throughout, such as on ‘Don’t You Want to Spiral Out of Control’ “He sleeps with the tv on, it’s like static building/I know the buzz has gone and we’re just drifting...” Atop another set muscular but sparkling guitar lines a portrait of frustrations is cleverly sketched out, and boy those voices in harmony on the chorus absolutely lift your senses!
On the husky, sensual ‘Chocolate Rabbit’ another example of their great songwriting gives us this zinger – “You’re like a chocolate rabbit you’re hollow inside/you leave me unsatisfied, sugar round my mouth”. A swinging drumbeat married to guitar lines repeating like an S.O.S. and great, cresting vocal harmonies leave you dizzy, highlighting the confusion of the feelings as a relationship struggles under differing wants, needs and expectations. Distances, you see?
Not to overstate my credentials, but the fact that this album has demanded my attention and captured my imagination so thoroughly should be all the recommendation you need to go and seek it out for yourself. Smoke Fairies really have brought the darkness and the wonders.