Between 2012 and now, Britain’s Smoke Fairies have gone back to the drawing board, re-assessing their writing techniques. “We scrapped lyrics right from the start if they were too flowery,” says Jessica Davies. “Unless the lyric really got to the point and said something, it got cut.” Katherine Blamire concurs: “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.”
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Farmer’s Corner, the upcoming record from James Jackson Toth’s project Wooden Wand, is also the first self-produced record in the Wooden Wand catalog. No wonder, then, Toth sounds so much at home, so much like himself on this record. Nowhere is that clearer than on excellent album opener “Alpha Dawn”. It’s a guitar-and-voice number, built around dusty acoustic and the sweet croak of Toth’s voice, but it’s also surrounded by melting textures, stringed instruments and atmospheric hues that spread this lonesome sound out into something larger than it seems. The song, and the record as a whole, is sparer than recent Wooden Wand records like Blood Oaths of the New Blues and Wooden Wand & the World War IV, but it’s got a similar bittersweet expansion to it. For an artist always fitfully changing, Toth seems to have found a sonic home on these past few records, and that uneasy comfort is clear on “Alpha Dawn”. And yet, even when he finds home, Toth is still restless and wandering in fruitful ways.
“The first phrases of ‘Rainy Days Ahead’ came to me when I was spending time at our summer cottage,” says Kari Rueslåtten. It’s “an old, worn out farm house in mid-Norway. The place is surrounded by the wild landscape that area is known for: steep mountains going straight into the sea and beautiful open spaces of green in between.” Rueslåtten’s description is one that could apply to any number of the tracks on Time to Tell, her first studio album in nine years. She composed the album primarily by singing while at the piano, which allowed her to find the strongest melodies and arrangements possible: “If the verse and chorus works just accompanied by the piano, it will work with other arrangements in studio too.”
With its video for “Your Condition”, intercontinental indie-pop act King of Prussia offers up a bittersweet sampling of its ambitious double album Zonian Girls…And the Echoes That Surround Us All. Premiering here on PopMatters, “Your Condition” is a jangly chestnut that combines winsome immediacy with hints of a grander scope once the orch-pop strings come in—after all, this is an effort that brings in 20 collaborators, most notably R.E.M.‘s Mike Mills.
Turning Rocks, the upcoming full-length by Montreal-Stockholm outfit Thus Owls, is a study in contrasts. The husband-wife team of Simon and Erika Angell brings together organic and high-concept elements in a way that coheres intricately on Turning Rocks, striking a heady balance between warm instrumentation and a stylish veneer. Thematically, Turning Rocks conveys a sense of nostalgia and patiently dramatic moods, its songs based on stories told to Erika Angell by her grandmother about the small Swedish village where they lived.