Three years on from their debut album, it would perhaps be foolish to expect any change from the London-based prog-folk quartet Wolf People; such a period being a blink of an eye in the context of the passing of time since the heyday of their ancestors in the late sixties and early seventies. 2010's Steeple was possibly the most blatant throwback to the genre in recent years (at least counting ones that went on to sell more than five copies); where others denounced their predecessors and distanced themselves from the dirtiest four letter word in music, Wolf People proclaimed their inspirations with pride. Yet on Fain there is definitely a modicum of progression, even if this isn't always for the best.
The first thing you notice about Fain in comparison to its predecessor is the marked improvement at face value of the recording quality. It is a lot crisper, and certainly sounds like a 'big' record, but this doesn't always suit the band. On 'When the Fire is Dead in the Grate' there is a degree of space between each instrument that does not fit the hazy sound the band creates. It seems like a petty criticism, but it is something which doesn't add a modern edge to the well-worn template that Wolf People trace around, but rather slightly files it away.
On Fain there seems to be more of a leaning to the realm of psychedelica, particularly on opener 'Empty Vessels'. The racing cymbals and delay-riddled guitar melodies that carry it give nods to the hedonistic acid-rock of Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Misunderstood, although things remain reined in when it feels like a solo is about to spiral out of control.
But there is still plenty to enjoy for those wanting a good, honest prog-rock work-out. Single 'All Returns' is the album's most concise, taking numerous left-turns through different suites in its first minute before settling into a fuzzed-up slow burner and finally erupting into multi-part vocal harmonies and drum rolls. Later, penultimate track 'Thief' is the album's longest at dead on seven minutes long and the most shameless reconstruction of the never-ending yarns wrought with mythical imagery that High Tide, King Crimson et al once spun. Its opening lines; "I am a thief of high renown, I spent a life in hiding, now the irons are locked around my hands and feet as we make our way along the road" and those that follow could well be enough to enrage a generation enough to invent another punk-rock, but the level of pomposity on both 'Thief' and the rest of the album doesn't quite hit the red alert/triple-gatefold marker.
Neither do Wolf People outstay their welcome. At under forty-five minutes long Fain is a heartbeat's length in its context, yet in its middle third things do begin to lag, with the band having both the foot off the pedal and the gearshift in second on 'Hesperus' and 'Answer' and here especially Fain is a brilliant gateway to the forbidden lands but not really much of an improvement and for the brave of heart a dive into the deep end would be a far better reward.
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