Smoke Fairies - Carried in Sound Album Review by Igor Bannikov for Northern Transmissions


Carried in Sound

Smoke Fairies

Smoke Fairies come back to sobering reality on Carried In Sound from their almost 20 years-long fairy tale wandering.

Over the last 17 years, Smoke Fairies have come a long way from Jack White’s darlings and indie folk-discovery of the early 2010s to a completely independent and self-sufficient band with their own distinctive sound, becoming one of the main suppliers of dark fables in the music industry. For better or worse, personal losses and struggles of the last few years forced them to leave the fairy multiverse, into which they have been breathing life for almost two decades, and return to the somber reality.

This fairy tale begins a long time ago. Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies met each other at the most vulnerable age, when they were 13. Back then, their friendship helped them run away from the boredom and routine of teenage life into their mysterious fairy tales. Together, young Sussex schoolgirls escaped the prim reality of their native Chichester to bluesy & jazzy New Orleans, and then to pretty poppy and just beautiful Vancouver, where the ideas of the music they wanted to do began to take shape. Those obviously were blues, rock, and folk influences. By 2007, they had already been touring the UK with Bryan Ferry, and in 2009, on Jack White’s Third Man Records, their singles “Gastown” and “River Song” with almost the Raconteurs or the Dead Weather-ish sound were released. But they abandoned this big opportunity to become the next buzzing garage blues rock project and instead united with Head, the producer widely known for his work with PJ Harvey, which greatly influenced their early sonics.

From the release of their debut album Through Low Light and Trees in 2010, they began to establish their own distinctive sound: from the first Tori Amos/PJ Harvey-inspired folksy studio offering to the eponymous bluesy “Blood Speaks,” to the poppy “Smoke Fairies” on the verge of chamber pop, to the almost Christmas dream-pop offering “Wild Winter” with shoegazey and math rock guitars, to their most Jack White and The Kills-ish record to date, “Darkness Brings the Wonders Home.” The latter marked their rebirth after around six years of hiatus. With all that baggage, they have managed to stay afloat for almost two decades with varied success. Over those years, they became adept at combining Kate Bush-indebted fairy tales with Jack White-like snarling bluesy guitars and folk cuts reminiscent of, let’s say, Sufjan Stevens and Joanna Newsom. But above all, Smoke Fairies remind me of Ethel Cain with her commitment to Southern Gothic fantasies and another duo, First Aid Kit, which, despite their non-Pacific Northwest roots, also embodies an American band.

After the successful release of their previous riff-banging record, they came to this moment on the rise, sonically and emotionally. But after that, as we remember, the pandemic started. They also went through personal struggles, including losing family members, and all of that influenced their sonics and songwriting, making it more personal and quiet. It’s strange to hear such intimate ballads after the previous pack of loud and raw garage guitar riffs. However, after that success, they recorded their 6th offering independently and in isolation at home, supported by their small but loyal community on Patreon. It’s right to say here that music remembers it all, and all their hypostases have found their place here: their dueling bluesy guitars haven’t gone anywhere but just became quieter (“Carried In Sound”), atmospheric and almost-orchestral layerings with piano and string section became even more subtle and Kate Bush-y (“There Was a Hope”), and Fleet Foxes-like choral celestial laments took an almost central part (“Seek It With Me”), along with gentle guitar strums (“Part of It All”).

This time, we hear far fewer arcane stories about woods, villages, dragon calling, demons, and other gothic stuff. Influenced by the dramatic and thought-provoking circumstances of mundane life, Katherine and Jessica use their skill of crafting magic tales to look inside themselves and tell us autobiographical and, despite the sad genesis, very warm and soothing stories full of themes of loss and grief, the transience of time, and senescence. Sometimes, humdrum reality forces us to flee from it to gloomy fantasy universes, but there will always be a time when it pulls us back with even darker and more bewildering realities. And as long as we are able to strike a spark of imagination from it, all earthly struggles seem manageable.

Order Carried in Sound HERE.

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