Faun Fables Faun FablesLight Of A Vaster Dark
One day Will Oldham comes up to you and says: “ you? and me? dancing?” (which, for those unfamiliar with the lingo between artists, means something like, “would you like to do a boy-girl record with me like Nancy & Lee, only I will be Nancy and three quarters of Lee while you will be one quarter of Lee, because after all it’s my record”). What do you do? Dawn McCarthy said yes and as a result, Bonnie “Prince” Billy recorded one of his finest albums: “The Letting Go” (Spunk, 2006). And Oldham lived happily ever after. But what happened to Faun Fables, the personal project McCarthy ended up sharing with Nils Frykdahl? It’s obvious that a collaboration like the one described above is bound to stigmatise in one way or another the career of the one who agrees to participate: you have to admit that, from that moment on, a high percentage of the people who start listening to your own work do so expecting something similar to the works of our friend Bonnie. Faun Fables, however, have two great things to their favour: first, their recording career started long before that entente cordiale; and second, McCarthy’s musical personality is solid enough to remain unshaken by what would have been an easy influence yielded by the bearded man.
In fact, in the same year “The Letting Go” was released, Faun Fables released what had been their last long-play effort so far: the conceptual album “The Transit Rider” (Drag City, 2006). That was a kind of egotist reaffirmation which now bears fruit, four years later, in “Light Of A Vaster Dark”, another conceptual record from the structure downwards: the 16 songs on it are divided in four movements separated by three interludes and accompanied by an intro and an outro. In fact, the titles of the first and the last songs are significant: “ Intro: Darkness” and “ Outro: Light”. Does this mean that “Light Of A Vaster Dark” proposes a labyrinthine voyage from the darkness to the light with only the help of a musical red thread? Could be, but it also has to be said that, if that’s the case, the mission failed somewhat, as the differences between the four movements are virtually imperceptibles, and all the songs show a very similar sonority in which it’s hard to distinguish traces of evolution of change. McCarthy has declared that this is an album that tackles the changing of the seasons while at the same time dealing with her recent motherhood and the figure of the mother, comparing her to the parents of the American nation: the pioneers who settled in the new territories in search of a better future. And it’s obvious that this is reflected in the lyrics. But in order for the concept to be sound, this intention should transcend the lyrical and reflect as well in the music, which is something that doesn’t happens in this album.
That doesn’t mean that “Light Of A Vaster Dark” is a failed album: the fact that its conceptual intention isn’t as solid as we would like it to be doesn’t keep Faun Fables from delivering some songs that stand out above the rest like gems, round and immaculately shiny. In fact, when McCarthy’s and Frykdahl’s compositions shine the most is precisely when they elevate a few feet from the inevitable feeling of monotony, giving the tracks intimate and individual traces of personality: the violin, strained in its own Balkanism, of “ Housekeeper”, the romantic poem of the heartbroken storyteller felt on “ Light Of A Vaster Dark”, the canticles of Hungarian pride on “ Hear The Grinder Creak”, the Africanoid tribalism “ Sweeping Spell”, the web of Masonic voices of “ Hibernation Tales” and, above all, the dazzling part with the harmonica bleeding nostalgia on “ Violet”.
All in all, Faun Fables take another small step in their particular exercise of clearing the cobwebs from Americana music via world music (in the least horrible sense of the word). In fact, McCarthy and Frykdahl come closer to folk Britannia than to the American roots that saw their project come to life, expanding their style with new influences from Hungary and from the Europe that is still celebrating its particular party in an attic in Romania. As if the vocal deliriums of Kate Bush had been injected with a cortisone shot, kindly provided by Fairport Convention under the command of folk Taliban John Fahey. As if the obscurantist chaos of Matt Elliott were musically arranged by A Silver Mt. Zion and poetically tidied by the troubadour Alasdair Roberts. As if the past were the present, the present were the past and the halfway point didn’t exist.
Raül De Tena
Faun Fables - Housekeeper