They’re Fairies, Jim, but not as we know them. After almost calling it a day in a self-doubt crisis following their second album and a continued lack of commercial success to match the critical acclaim, the Smoke Fairies: Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire took stock, finally deciding to press on, throwing out the bathwater but holding on to the baby.
Now signed to a new label, the result is a reinvention of their sound on their eponymous new album that finds their otherworldly, spidery, spectral overlapping harmonies cast off in favour of two distinct voices and their goblinesque fusion of English folk and deep ellum blues embracing electronics and pop-influenced atmospherics that, on something like the pulsing Drinks And Dancing and Hope Is Religion, conjure a Kate Bush-Clannad hybrid rather than the Gillian Welch colours of yore. Hell, the swirling, spacey angelics of Your Own Silent Movie might even embrace a wisp of Stevie Nicks.
The old ambience hasn’t been totally forsaken, the rumbling drums of Misty Versions and the pulsing waves of The Very Last Time still steeped in a fecund dankness, but it’s things like the enervated Eclipse Them All with its brooding organ drone and percussive hisses, the scuffed metallic beat and rough beast slouch of Shadow Inversions and the mechanical fairground piano and electronic creep of Koto that are more characteristic.
The album opens with the Spectorish flourishes of We’ve Seen Birds, Davies’ musical apology for her brief crisis of faith, but the joy and optimism here and the hedonistic desire of the full-blooded bluesy, clockwork rhythms Want It Forever are overcast by the duo’s more familiar melancholia, though this time round the lyrics have, says Davies, given anything “too flowery” the elbow in favour of more direct statement.
The album closes on the piano accompanied ballad Are You Crazy?, a more serene and traditional arrangement that slowly builds to a fulsome finale, a track that will serve to reassure the shell-shocked following still trying to take in the transformation. However, having already given them their first chart entry (albeit at a humble 70), the wind of change is blowing the smoke forward rather than leaving it becalmed in the past.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released on Full Time Hobby, Out now
Order Smoke Fairies via: Amazon