Smoke Fairies - Blood SpeaksIn the wake of the banjos ‘n’ beards revival of recent years, it can be easy to forget that folk, as a genre, used to mean a bit more than a well-produced barn dance. Smoke Fairies’ second album brings more punch than pastoral – so much so that the only reason we’re referring to them as a folk act at all is because everyone else seems to for some reason. In fact we will persist with that tag if only because 'Blood Speaks', with its gently twisting spirals of electric guitar floating past unexpected bursts of noisy blues, comes across as a rock album made by those with quieter tendencies.
The London-by-way-of-everywhere duo have run with the ideas of their debut – a preponderance of harmonies, robust instrumentation and an artful ear for atmosphere – and pushed them forcibly into harsher climes: ‘The Three of Us’ scrapes its way through a recurrent guitar riff and bassy drum slams; the title track rips the heart out of an English traditional and hooks it up to a throbbing, electronic pulse.
Given a twist of fate and less ambitious writers, these songs could have been predictable but, as they are, they make 'Blood Speaks' by turns gently evocative and powerfully straightforward, speaking of something deeper, darker and more primal than folk is generally approaching these days. Tellingly, the more pedestrian moments come as the band relax into more familiar patterns. ‘Awake’ dully twinkles, never quite coming to life, and closer ‘Film Reel’s move of focus away from Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies’ tightening twists of vocals, given their entrancing power throughout the record, is to its detriment.
It’s those vocals that anchor the album to those troubling folk comparisons, harmonies and lyrics that both enliven the atmosphere and slow the tempo, making for the odd atmosphere of an occasionally pretty loud experience moving at a slow pace. It’s a bold step, and one that can’t quite sustain itself but 'Blood Speaks' is a force of nature, and in more senses than one.