Despite their delicate sounding name, Smoke Fairies offer a moody slab of rock music on their latest album Darkness Brings the Wonders Home. The duo of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies have left the realm of folk tales and myths for something eerier—the world of science. The album possesses a gloomy view of the world as a place where when one sees radiance, it’s just the shine of a shark’s fin in the murky water. Reality is harsher than the imagination.
The ten songs are constructed according to the same basic principles. Blamire and Davies sing together harmoniously, with few solos. The mix of their voices purposely blends into a single voice that reverberates in off-kilter ways, as if from a slightly warped record. There’s something vocally tuneful and discordant at the same time. The voices are layered over ominous-sounding electric guitar licks that feature the lower sonic range of the instrument and martial drum cadences whose steadiness insinuates uniformity more than moving forward. The results imply that something serious is going on. They are not ironic even when the prevailing metaphor is that of a “Chocolate Rabbit” that is hollow inside.
Darkness Brings the Wonders Home is the Smoke Fairies’ first album in four years. The South London duo recorded the tracks in another fog-laden city, Seattle, with producer Phil Ek (the Black Angels, Fleet Foxes, the Shins). Perhaps the nebulous environs of the New World rubbed off on the music. There is a fuzziness to the sound. The lyrics are indistinct, even as the words are carefully articulated. It takes a second or two after initially hearing them to decipher what was sung. The accompanying instruments have a wavering existence produced by the repetition of single notes in different pitches to create overtones. As the name of the final cut “Super Tremolo” suggests, this was deliberately done to create a nuanced effect. Both Blamire and Davies play a number of instruments, although it’s unclear who contributed what sounds here.
While sometimes it is necessary to squint to see things clearly, Smoke Fairies imply the opposite is also true. One has to stop focusing on the trees to see the forest. For example, the song “Out of the Woods” tells the tale of a lover whose directness causes problems. Sometimes the straightest path is one where the branches and other obstacles get in the way. Detours inspire an increase in passion. Intimacy gets lost when things are too straightforward.
Overall, the album alludes to the danger of looking too closely in the light. It’s only in the darkness where one can experience the marvelous. The duo note that it is in dreams where one can be safely unrestrained. “Don’t You Want to Be Out of Control” they ask on the evocative track of that name. The answer to the rhetorical question lies in one’s disconnection from reality. This doesn’t require drugs, although sometimes the answer can be found in a pill. Existing in space and time creates its own opportunities, whether one is waiting for an elevator or sitting in a coffee shop. Illumination requires just turning off the lights.