|Smoke Fairies — Smoke Fairies (2014)|
Smoke Fairies — Smoke Fairies
♦♣♥ These two school friends blend the blues, British folk, and their delicate harmonies.
Formed: Chichester, Sussex, England
Location: London, Britain (UK)
Album release: 14th April 2014
Record Label: Full Hobby Times
01 We’ve Seen Birds 3:05
02 Eclipse Them All 4:05
03 Shadow Inversions 3:34
04 Hope Is Religion 4:01
05 Waiting for Something to Begin 5:21
06 Your Own Silent Movie 3:25
07 Misty Versions 3:47
08 Drinks and Dancing 2:39
09 Koto 4:25
10 Want It Forever 3:12
11 The Very Last Time 3:45
12 Are You Crazy? 3:45
℗ 2014 Full Time Hobby
♦♣♥ Jessica Davies
♦♣♥ Katherine Blamire
♦♣♥ Jo Biddiscombe Assistant
♦♣♥ Katherine Blamire Group Member
♦♣♥ Jeff Craft Road Manager
♦♣♥ Jessica Davies Group Member
♦♣♥ Ryan Farlow Road Manager
♦♣♥ Steve Gullick Photography
♦♣♥ Kristofer Harris Engineer, Guitar (12 String), Guitar (Bass), Mixing, Percussion, Producer, Synthesizer, Synthesizer Bass
Doug Hart Management
♦♣♥ Matt Harvey Management
♦♣♥ Andy Newmark Drums
♦♣♥ James Simpson Assistant, Engineer, Guitar (Bass), Programming
♦♣♥ Smoke Fairies Composer, Drum Loop, Fender Rhodes, Glasses, Guitar, Hammond B3, Mellotron, Music Copyist, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Piano (Electric), Primary Artist, Synthesizer, Wurlitzer
♦♣♥ Noel Summerville Mastering
♦♣♥ Jack Tarrant Engineer
♦♣♥ Sara Vitorino Make–Up
♦♣♥ Neil Walsh Guitar (Bass), Viola
♦♣♥ Robert Wilks Drums, Guitar (Electric), Percussion
By Sam Shepherd | posted on 9 Apr 2014 | Score: ***½
♦♣♥ This eponymous album marks a welcome return for Smoke Fairies, albeit one that nearly didn’t happen. After the release of 2012’s Blood Speaks, Jessica Davies told fellow Smoke Fairy Katherine Blamire that she wasn’t sure that they should continue with their endeavours.
♦♣♥ It is hard to make a living as a musician at the best of times, but even after well received albums and support slots with Bryan Ferry and Laura Marling, the pair still had to find time for music alongside making ends meet with temp jobs. After some consideration, the idea of not playing together was inconceivable; Davies and Blamire are not just a band, but pretty much life long friends. It is the music, they say, that “is their life” and that really, there was no other option but to carry on.
♦♣♥ They turned their attention to the mechanics of the band, and the result is an album that doesn’t follow the paths of previous Smoke Fairies releases. This time around they use different instrumentation (synths are a major step forward), and rather than harmonising their vocals they are operating as two separate individuals (though this is actually quite hard to discern). They have also sought to strip everything back and reject any notions of their former “comfy” songwriting techniques. The result is an album that is more direct yet somehow, still ephemeral.
♦♣♥ There are a couple of songs that reference the almost–breakdown of the duo. The first is album opener We Saw Birds which Davies wrote as a kind of apology to Blamire. It possesses an upbeat and positive quality not just in the delicate and almost poppy vocal line but in the scampering drumbeat and jaunty piano lines too. The Last Time meanwhile is a much darker assessment of a relationship breakdown. Whilst it might not be about the Smoke Fairies themselves, it is hard not to draw that conclusion. Lines like “Put a match to it, and let it burn”, and “tie a knot to it, like you mean stay” suggest a relationship at the end of the road, burned out, betrayed and used up. The quite beautiful chorus of “I’ll let the fire between us die for the very last time” provides an idea of what might have happened had the friendship and music of the Smoke Fairies not continued. Thankfully, the bridges were merely singed, not burned entirely.
♦♣♥ Eclipse Them All is a sparse and introspective track, there’s little more than an undulating synth line and the snap of snare drum to drive it along. Instead, it relies on the wonderful vocal interplay of Davies and Blamire to make it work, a tactic that pays off beautifully. This isn’t always the case, sometimes the decision to keep things basic mean that these skeletal arrangements just don’t quite have enough about them to hold the attention but when it works, Davies and Blamire exploit the delicate nature of the songs to create some truly spectral moments.
♦♣♥ The opening of Waiting For Something To Begin for example is the sound of ’60s West Coast spirits twisting from the ends of smouldering joss sticks. The brittle construction of Koto (spidery guitars, delicate piano and drum machine with knackered batteries) coupled with imagery of piers in the distance and shut down fairgrounds at the seaside give a bleak outlook reminiscent of Susan Hill’s stories in the collection A Bit Of Singing And Dancing.
♦♣♥ Thankfully there’s the B52s style pop-thrust (as thrusting as this album gets) of Want It Forever to balance things out a little; here, there’s a positivity that is palpable and an acknowledgement of what it is the pair are trying to achieve. This might not be the album that sees them break through, but it is a fine body of work from a pair of musicians embracing the thing they love most. (http://www.musicomh.com/)
Artist Biography by Heather Phares
♦♣♥ A duo combining the ethereality of British folk with the earthiness of the blues, Smoke Fairies is the project of Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire. The pair met at school in Chichester, West Sussex, and discovered that they felt more of a connection to classic rock, folk, and the blues than the more modern music that the other kids listened to. While they were still in school, they began crafting their own take on those sounds incorporating their delicate harmonies, and named themselves Smoke Fairies after mystical creatures who scare and confuse late–night drivers. After school ended, Davies and Blamire traveled to New Orleans and other areas of the American South, performing at venues like Tipitina’s; they then settled in Vancouver for a year. In 2007, Smoke Fairies went on tour with Bryan Ferry after a mutual friend gave him a copy of the duo’s demos. The following year, Blamire and Davies released their official debut single, Living with Ghosts, as a 7" on the Music for Heroes label. The buzz around the duo grew in 2009, when releases like the EP Frozen Heart and the single Sunshine won acclaim from artists such as Richard Hawley, who took Smoke Fairies on tour with him that October, and Jack White, who had the duo open for the Dead Weather and recorded a single with them. The single, Gastown/The River Song, was released by White’s Third Man imprint that December and featured White on drums and guitar and Raconteurs/Dead Weather member "Little Jack" Lawrence as part of the backing band. In 2010 the group released the compilation Ghosts, as well as the full–length Through Low Light And Trees. Although much of the following year was spent touring the U.S., the duo preceded those dates with their first ever U.K. headline tour. Influenced by mid-'70s era Fleetwood Mac, Blood Speaks was issued in different territories between 2012 and 2013, before a self–titled synth pop–inspired fourth full–length saw the light of day in April 2014.
∩ 2007 Strange the Things (Concentrated/Concentrated People, 6 August 2007)
∩ 2010 Through Low Light and Trees (Year Seven Records)
∩ 2011 Through Low Light and Trees (UK: V2/Cooperative Music, 6 September 2010. U.S.: Year Seven Records, June 2011)
∩ 2012 Blood Speaks (V2 records, 21 May 2012)
∩ 2014 Smoke Fearies (Full Time Hobby, 14 April 2014)
∩ Ghosts: A Compilation of A Sides, B Sides and an EP from the Recent Past — 12" marbled–vinyl special edition of 500 (U.S., 453 Music, March 2010) colour special addition Record Store Day pressing copies.
∩ Ghosts: A Compilation of A Sides, B Sides and an EP from the Recent Past — marbled-vinyl and CD (UK, 453 Music, 2010)
Singles and EPs:
∩ "Living with Ghosts" / "Troubles" — 7" (Music for Heros, August 2008)
Frozen Heart — 7" EP ("Frozen Heart", "Fences", "Morning Light", "We Had Lost Our Minds", "He's Moving On") (Music for Heros, July 2009)
∩ "Sunshine" / "When you Grow Old" — 7" (October 2009)
∩ "Gastown" / "River Song" — 7" limited edition of 150 on tri-colored vinyl; Texas-sized 8" limited edition (Third Man Records, September 2009)
∩ "Hotel Room" / "Human Concerns" — 7" limited edition of 300 (V2 / Cooperative Music) (2010)
∩ "Strange Moon Rising" / "Requiem" — 7" limited edition of 500 (V2 / Cooperative Music, 24 January 2011)
∩ "Strange Moon Rising" / "Alabama" — 7" limited UK tour edition (V2 / Cooperative Music) (24 Jan 2011)
∩ "Hotel Room" / "Strange Moon Rising" — 7" limited edition of 500 on blue-marbled vinyl (453 Music, 16 April 2011, World Record Store Day)
∩ "Storm Song" / "Storm Song Demo" — 7" limited edition of 500 (V2 / Cooperative Music, 16 May 2011)
Contributions to anthologies:
∩ "Good Man" on Live at the Electroacoustic Club, Vol. 2 (Running Jump Records, 13 November 2006)
∩ "Troubles" on What's Kickin'?, Vol. 2 (Stove Pony, 14 May 2007)
∩ "Troubles" on Shivering Sands and Scavenging Birds (Thames Delta Recording Co., 14 October 2009)
∩ "Alabama" on Harvest Revisited (Promotional CD issued with Mojo Magazine, February 2011)
∩ Backing vocals on Richard Hawley's False Lights from the Land EP (Mute Records, 7 June 2010)
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♦♣♥ Smoke Fairies’ outstanding new album, the eponymously titled Smoke Fairies, shows the band in top form, combining their classic approach whilst exploring new forms of musical expression — but it is an album that they nearly didn’t make.
♦♣♥ There was a moment after the release of Smoke Fairies’ last album (Blood Speaks, 2012) when Jessica Davies turned to musical partner Katherine Blamire and told her she was no longer sure whether Smoke Fairies should continue.
♦♣♥ For Smoke Fairies the suggestion of not playing music together would potentially impact more than just their band — theirs was a friendship forged by music, by a shared ambition that had carried them from their schooldays and on to songwriting and performing together.
♦♣♥ “We started considering what would we do if we didn’t do music,” recalls Davies, “and it was just a massive void.” Deciding that giving up on the band was “not an option,” Davies wrote a musical apology to Blamire that would become the stunning opening track of their new eponymously titled album, Smoke Fairies. “I just wanted to say sorry to her — sorry I scared you like that.”
♦♣♥ In the six years since Smoke Fairies first entered a recording studio, they have made two critically acclaimed albums, supported on tours with Bryan Ferry, Richard Hawley and Laura Marling, and had a single released on Jack White’s Third Man Records; but for all the perceived glamour of a musical career, they were still sharing a house in Peckham and waiting for something to happen while they worked temp jobs around London.
♦♣♥ But with the question now raised, Smoke Fairies were able to really take stock and reassess what the band truly meant to them. “We realised that this is our life,” says Davies. “And we just have to see it as this wonderful thing, every gig we get to play and every record we get to make — we’re just incredibly grateful for that.”
♦♣♥ More than this, it allowed them to think about the type of album they wanted to make. They had earned a reputation for impressive live performances, for harmonies and intricate guitar playing, but what they now craved was something simpler and more direct. Blamire talks of secretly listening to pop music on the bus, trying to figure out “why it was popular, why it was good.” Davies tells how her own personal yardstick had become “anything with a drumbeat that made me dance around the kitchen.”
♦♣♥ Smoke Fairies yearned for movement and forward momentum. They wanted to make an album that wasn’t simply recorded live, but rather presented songs that were pored over, puzzled–out, polished and produced. “We wanted to feel that we had dissected everything back to its basic bones,” avers Davies, “and then for every song to kind of shimmer.”
♦♣♥ In 2013 Blamire and Davies took themselves to a remote recording studio in Kent with producer Kristofer Harris. “It was on a very old industrial estate,” says Davies. “It was a really eccentric area — it used to be a council office, now there’s a bubble car garage, a tattoo parlour and a granite workshop. It just physically felt so distant from anything to do with the music industry.”
♦♣♥ It was there that they set about crafting their latest album, Smoke Fairies, calling on their bandmates and old touring friends such as drummer Andy Newmark (Sly and the Family Stone, Roxy Music, John Lennon) to help out. “It felt very warm,” says Davies. “These people really came together to encourage us, as if we had retreated into a world of only ourselves and the people who mattered.”
♦♣♥ The distance and sense of introspection also allowed for a shift in their songwriting techniques. “We used to do a lot of harmonies,” says Blamire. “But this album gave us the opportunity to actually be two voices, rather than two voices as one entity; two people talking to each other as distinct characters. They’re the messages that we send to each other.”
♦♣♥ Their lyrical style, too, has changed: “We scrapped lyrics right from the start if they were too flowery,” asserts Davies. “Unless the lyric really got to the point and said something, it got cut.” Blamire agrees: “As songwriters, I feel we’re really starting to sum things up properly, to nail them down. For me, it was a testament to how long we’ve been together that we could just say to each other ‘that’s shit.’ There really was no ego on this record.”
♦♣♥ The result is a remarkable set of songs, notable not only for their strength and robustness, but also a sense of experimentation. The sheer liberation Blamire and Davies felt at using synths for the first time is evident in tracks such as the irresistible “Your Own Silent Movie” and the beautifully compelling “Drinks and Dancing”. Davies and Blamire’s sublime voices still stand to the fore, and tracks like “Want It Forever” are lined with a deliciously bluesy skuzzy–ness. This may not be the sort of album you ever expected Smoke Fairies to make, but it is an extraordinary record — bracing, sensual and defiant — and one that promises an exciting musical future.
♦♣♥ Blamire and Davies see the track “Hope Is Religion” as the song that best sums up their experiences of the past few years and their continued devotion to making music. “It’s one that we wrote together,” affirms Davies. “It’s about writing songs with someone, putting those ideas out into the open and sharing them with somebody; but it’s also about how with music you’re always hoping for more — that this will happen or that will happen. For us it felt as if music had become our religion, we believed in it without any evidence that we’d actually be able to make any money or be successful. I guess that sums up the situation we were in; but we realised we had no other option but to keep on believing.”
|Smoke Fairies — Smoke Fairies (2014)|