By John Wigley
What do we want from music? That’s one big dumb and profoundly important/impotent question. Do we want it to comfort us, or challenge us on a deep level, a level that we didn’t know we had? Do we want the simple conformity of knowing what the music will be like just from a press photograph of the band or do we want to be confused, disorientated, thrown?
Maybe we want a shifting combination of all the above, depending on our mood, our life, our loves, our souls. Maybe what we want is a recording by the Smoke Fairies.
Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies are English by birth but soaked in the sound and above all feel of American music. They spent time living in and breathing in New Orleans prior to putting out Through Low Light and Trees, their debut record. They also released a single on Jack White’s Third man label and toured with the polymathic musical primitive: perhaps a tip of the hat from him to Smoke Fairies twisting shifting music making.
Blood Speaks opens with “Let Me Know,” a tune that cranks along with a feel of a mirror universe 70s Fleetwood Mac, detuned and bereft. It bristles with a sense of powerful emotions twisting like eels below the surface of the water. It’s both what you would expect and something weirder, wilder, further away.
“Awake,” the next song, rides on beautifully intertwining guitars; sweetness and toughness battling for supremacy, neither and both winning that war. The aroma that this album most sweetly/pungently gives off is that of betrayal, snaking through the title tune and perhaps most powerfully within the sweet and crushing “Take Me Down When You Go.”
It isn’t perfect, things aren’t perfect; the emotional stretching and twisting leads to album of a one pace rhythm and, to these ears, “The Three of Us” fails to scale the heights of that which surrounds it. But, this is a record that contains “Feel It Coming Near,” an astonishing, frightening blues that serves as a perfect miniature of the album that surrounds it. Fearful and motivated, passive and angry, sweet and vicious, perfectly realised and gnawingly unresolved.
The best of music is the best of music because of the tensions within. The sacred and the profane that combined to create soul, the Tin Pan Alley melodies almost, but not quite, submerged in squalls of Velvet guitars. Intimations of that tension can be found here, the gossamer cover laid over a frame of hardened steel. What do we want from music?
Smoke Fairies Blood Speaks is released by V2 Records