Smoke Fairies - with their distinctive combination of dual vocals that can fog up car windows and guitar lines pricklier than pine needles - are a band pretty much custom-made for the bleak midwinter. There’s a frostiness to everything they do that makes the prospect of listening to them on a white beach in the blazing heat of summer seem almost perverse.
Given that their last record was a Christmas album called ‘Wild Winter’, it’s clear that Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire are happy embracing the cold darkness inherent to their music. Their decision to release long-awaited new record ‘Darkness Brings the Wonders Home’ at the close of January is especially appreciated, as it absolutely demands to be listened to through earmuff-clad headphones whilst trampling over frosty bracken in the nearest spinney, wold, moor, and/or patch of wilderness might be at hand.
Since helping Public Service Broadcasting rewrite their own rulebook, providing non-sampled vocals to their 2015 record ‘The Race For Space’, Smoke Fairies have been quietly hibernating, hidden away from the world. Usually when bands sequester themselves for such long periods of time it results in a departure of sound, some reinvention of the wheel designed to explain away their absence to their pining fanbase. In Smoke Fairies’ case, however, the reverse almost seems true.
‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’ succeeds in striking closer to the essence of what Smoke Fairies have always been than ‘Through The Low Light and Trees’, ‘Blood Speaks’, or even their self-titled album managed. Bells and whistles are kept to an absolute minimum as the duo home in on what the heart of their sound is. Every unessential element, the string sections, pianos and atmospherics that cluttered their previous records, is stripped away with an impressive lack of sentiment. Even the rhythm section sounds neutered, limited largely to simple root notes and unflashy backbeats.
With this sparse backdrop behind them, Davies and Blamire give themselves space to truly soar. Every song is carried by their two core strengths: effortless harmonised vocals and a knack for trading bluesy guitar licks. Lead singles ‘Out Of The Woods’ and ‘Disconnect’ showcase a renewed commitment to the ‘Electric Mud’-style blues riffing they fell in love with back when they lived in New Orleans - something that they’ve often spoken about but not truly delivered on...until this record.
There’s also a healthy dose of Pacific North-West-ness that seems to have soaked into their sound during their recording sessions in Seattle. Producer Phil Ek has previously worked with local acts like Fleet Foxes, Band Of Horses, and Typhoon, helping them to bottle a small part of that unique, rainswept climate and put it on record. Despite their Chichester roots, Smoke Fairies prove themselves a perfect fit for his techniques. From start to finish ‘Darkness Brings The Wonders Home’ is a vibe, a clearly sketched world all of its own populated with dark waters, impenetrable forests and oppressive cloud formations.
This album was very nearly not released. Davies and Blamire revealed on their podcast Smoke Signals that their record label pulled out just one day before ‘Out Of The Woods’ dropped, so we might never have had the chance to hear them finally perfecting the formula long after their Jack White-tipped period of hype faded. Thank the gods of winter we did though, because by tweaking the American seasoning in their long-simmering stew of English folk, Smoke Fairies have finally delivered on their early promise to create an album you can truly get lost in.
Words: Josh Gray
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