Saturday July 30, 2005
by David Kidman
It's only their fourth album, yet it seems the Faeries have travelled a long long way from their striking yet tentative Greentrax label debut Mellowosity. Basically yet most excitingly, Now, Croftwork really does what the press handout says - it combines “everything you've ever heard from the band in the past with a distinctly new sound for now”. With the many Celtic-fusion albums of the past few years, you might think you've heard all the ways in which bagpipe-music can be rocked-up or grooved-out, but the joy here is that the Faeries still retain an element of surprise and innovation in their treatments of the traditional-sounding dance tunes created by band members (mostly the work of pipes/whistle player Peter Morrison, with some by fiddle/mandolin player Adam Sutherland and drummer Iain Copeland and bassist Innes Hutton, either jointly or severally).
This time round, the band have added the sound of brass to the mix with a mini-horn-section (trombone and sax) spicing up the already pretty full group sound, and to bristlingly good effect. Specially so with the title track, which is boldly heralded in by what might be a radio news call-sign and then pursues its quarry in the style of a contemporary Scottish-set crime-action-movie soundtrack complete with exotic touches of instrumentation and cinematically lush textures. As elsewhere on the album, there's a lot of new sounds in the picture now, and much of it is a genuinely groundbreaking new mix that retains the powerful upfront attack and strong presence for which the Faeries have always been noted as a live act, all the while startling our preconceptions with intriguing subtleties in the arrangement.
The Anthropologist is probably the funkiest slice of strutting the Faeries have ever committed to CD, with a brazen jazzy swagger that propels it along the streetwise beat like nobody's business. When The Seahound Left Me and All About Windmills stray into lounge-jazz territory, whereas Croftwork's Trans Island Express (surely a sly nod to Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express, geddit?!) transports us from outer-space, with echoes of world-music static filtering through the transmission distortion, soon zooming right on down to earth and trundling along its track rather stylishly. The extended Decisions, Decisions/Kevin O'Neill set revolves captivatingly around a lazy spacey reel, while The Great Ceilidh Swindle boogies on down in the time-honoured manner and The Drone Age updates the Third Ear Band with a similarly hypnotic modern-day trance beat, taking it further into filmic terrain with added vocal nuances.
On first playthrough I thought a couple of the tracks were a mite relentless, at least on initial acquaintance, and with the latter half of the album the Faeries certainly seem to get more into their experimental stride, but second playthrough and a neat cranking-up of the volume enabled me to appreciate the serious dance grooves and the inventive majesty of the complex sound-picture so much better. Brilliant - so get right in there and lie back to dance!
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