Smoke Fairies new album 'Blood Speaks' is the result of a 'more confident', 'bolder' band 'pushing (their) boundaries' and incorporating 'broader influences'. Having caught the ear of such respected and influential musicians as Richard Hawley and Jack White (the latter having recorded, released and gigged with the duo), Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies may have found themselves in a position of implied pressure to follow up their very favourably received debut album, 'Through Low Light And Trees'. Upping sticks from the tranquillity and peace of Sussex and eschewing their previous Cornwall haunt in favour of the suburban chaos of London's Ladbrook Grove to record their new album has undoubtedly helped the pair toughen up both musically and individually. In Katherine's own words, she says, 'We've made peace with the city' whereas previously she felt like she was trapped by it. The result is an album, Smoke Fairies, say, which is, in the most part, 'Inspired by London and travelling.'
If all this talk of a tougher and bolder Smoke Fairies has you all of a quiver because you fear they may have lost some of their original charm, worry not. There is a move towards a slightly edgier sound with an undercurrent of torment bubbling not far from the surface, but ostensibly, Smoke Fairies have kept their tightly wrapped symbiotic sound and further enhanced it with a maturity and assuredness born of age and confidence. The opening two tracks don't stray far from the (Smoke Fairies) norm with the sound of Fleetwood Mac on 'Let Me Know' and even a faint hint of Morcheeba on the more gentle hypnotic notes of 'Awake'.
Where Smoke Fairies start to broaden their horizons and spread their musical wings can be heard from the more bluesy, harder, sound of 'The Three Of Us'. The narrative road trip tale is notable for its fabulous steel slide guitar riffs, more punchy percussion and the unrelenting majesty of the combined vocal delivery. Rather like Laura Marling going a little wilder for 'The Beast' on her latest album, Smoke Fairies have, albeit too briefly, unshackled themselves and strummed a guitar in 'anger'. 'Daylight' follows on with a piano accompanying the delicate ache of the vocal in a stripped back but effective mix that is similar in part to PJ Harvey's White Chalk album. More of the bands broader pallet is further in evidence on the title track 'Blood Speaks'. With possibly the least immediate, least accessible track on the 10 track album being given title track status you would think Smoke Fairies were trying to be difficult but perseverance pays off. The slow smouldering build to this track is like watching a snowball travel slowly downhill, gradually picking up momentum and volume, eventually forming an avalanche of stunning sonic layers that wash over you.
Love seen from an entirely damaged, tainted, disillusioned or at least tarnished perspective is given on the more lively 'Take Me Down When You Go'... 'Something dies when you fall in love, something lives when you've had enough of driving over the ice......I can feel the warmth you can bring, like the burn of the wind to my skin.' A more soulful, brooding hurt is heard on 'Feel It Coming Near' before the more traditional folk of 'Hideaway'. 'Film Reel' closes out 'Blood Speaks' with more angelic, beautiful choral vocals this time set to a very harmonic guitar.
Smoke Fairies' second album is indeed more dynamic than its predecessor. It has seen the band push the boundaries of 'their sound' and it has resulted in a good, solid album. Unfortunately, to some degree you are also left to wonder if, with a little tweaking, it couldn't have been even better. If you've seen Smoke Fairies live, you'll know they are capable of letting go, of unleashing a more feral sound and it's a shame they didn't do that more on 'Blood Speaks'. The mixes are a little too considered and the sound rather subdued as a consequence. Turning it up helps but producing it slightly differently may have helped more.
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