Monday, July 18, 2011

Review - Peatbog Faeries, 'Dust'


The Peatbog Faeries
Peatbog Records

An album packed full of sensitivity and activity but perhaps lacking the development that it promises.

As the soft accumulation of the first track, ‘Calgary Capars’, comes into play it is clear that this sextet from the Isle of Skye are looking to move beyond the dance rhythms that have dominated their work up until now.  DUST is their seventh album, although only the fifth in the studio, and their unique brand of purely instrumental folk is just as much about playing around on the mixing desks as it is in the recording.  Half-way between tradition and technological revelation, the result here is beautiful.  Bagpipes and fiddles, intense with that highland edge, work on synthesized beats to make an ambience worthy of Archie MacFarlene’s cover art, with its blurred photos and dust particles catching the light.  The Peatbog Faeries are at one with their country’s folklore past but try to channel it in a way that uses all of creative possibilities open to them.

Dropping some of the tight post-production bass lines has, here, brought the band some aspects of live performance that they were previously missing out on.  In ‘Calgary Capars’ the fiddle listens carefully for its synthetic tempo, tentative at first, it then becomes enthusiastic.  And then, as if its owner has run out of steam, it drops out and lets the brass section take over.  There is energy, there is thought and it’s great music.   I want to be a fly on the wall in their production process.  In all honesty, I think this album is mostly about this process, long-time producer Calum McLean claiming that it has been ‘the best musical experience of [his] life’.

And the result is interesting, no doubt.  But for this to have been a great album I would have liked the same structures that are so carefully managed within the tracks themselves (to McLean’s credit) to have found their way into the thing as whole.  It would have been poignant, for instance, to end on ‘Ascent of Conival’, an eerie but joyful tale of the composer championing the Sutherland mountain of the song’s title.  Instead we are taken back into the relaxed piano and sax of ‘Fishing at Orbost’ and then called to party at ‘Room 215’.  It seems like a bit of an anti-climax.  This being said, that the band has taken such a new direction means that a climax is probably not what they intended.  For now they are content just to jam. Katy Browse

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