[1 April 2013]
The English female psychedelic duo the Smoke Fairies have a very distinctive sound. Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s accents and voices blend and contrast in expressive ways tinged with a shade of mystic melancholy. The two women always seem in intense conversation with each other. The music comes off as affected but affectless; like a mannequin posed in a provocative manner wearing an inscrutable face. The songs, frequently about psychological states of mind, take on the aura of the talking cure. The passionate monologues (they both tend to be the same person via the songs) are dispassionately rendered…but the instrumentation insistently proclaim that nothing is ever resolved.
“Let me know where I went wrong / I want to know”, the narrator proclaims, but the context suggests that the character is too fragile to know the truth, and indeed it was this very vulnerability and need that caused the relationship to end. While there are tons of songs about breakups from every perspective, the brittle nature of just holding things together after a loss make this one especially delicate despite the rhetoric of toughness.
The appeal of the Smoke Fairies is rooted in how Davies and Blamire turn an ordinary experience, like being dumped, into something more cosmic. Nothing happens without a reason. Event life circumstance has more meaning than the personal because everything and everyone is connected. This psychedelic vibe turns a state of mind into a state of consciousness. Unfortunately, this is a kind of a bummer. The songs here are dark. When the songs’ personae say they were thinking about something, it is usually something bad. When someone is in love, there is more pain than joy. There are not any happy songs, per se, on the record.
Davies and Blamire are joined by a band who ably keep the rhythms and tempos moving forward. Even on the slower and more intimate songs, such as “Feel It Coming Near” and “Awake“, the band does a good job of keeping things from becoming too static. The Smoke Fairies’ folk tendencies can sometimes get bogged down in repetition, which can create mood and then get lost there. The other instruments prod them long in service of the songs.
Listening to the Smoke Fairies means getting lost in the narratives. One follows the breadcrumbs of voices and the trail of guitars that let the notes linger and fade into each other in a way that one stalks a rabbit hopping from place to place without rhyme or reason being its very strategy. One can easily be seduced by the pleasant surfaces of the sound into the gloom beneath. The artistry is easily discerned, but I am not sure of its value. Why would one want to be miserable? This is not meant to be a glib statement.
The people in the America I live in tend to be troubled by a low-grade anxiety. If it’s not one’s job, it’s the economy; if it’s not one’s health, it’s someone we know is ill and underinsured, ad infinitum. It’s hard to relax in a world full of drones where others really do want to do you harm, including your fellow citizens if it is somehow in their benefit. At least that’s the way it can seem. This doesn’t give you the blues. It’s something worse and more insidious because we cannot really name it. The Smoke Fairies have captured that mood. They imply that it’s something in the blood, but I am not sure. I think it is something outside of us, but hey, they may be right.