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Faun Fables - Family Album CD (album) cover


Faun Fables


Prog Folk

3.56 | 12 ratings

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4 stars Here’s another band that had to gestate a while for me before really appreciating them. I have to admit my only interest in Faun Fables initially came from seeing them referred to as a modern ‘American acid folk band’. Turns out they are American, but none of the rest of those descriptors is completely accurate.

Faun Fables seems to consist of Dawn McCarthy and whoever else she feels like involving at different times. Nils Frykdahl (Idiot Flesh, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) is the one person she seems to feel like involving regularly. Otherwise it’s a mixed-bag of family and friends, so the term ‘band’ should be considered in a loose sense. And I wouldn’t call her music ‘acid folk’ either, although I can’t think of anything more or less accurate than that to describe it. In general, most of the basic tenants of folk are present anyway: storytelling lyrics; lots of acoustic sounds including some traditional instruments (glockenspiel, autoharp, flute, gamelan – uh, look it up); rather simple, basic arrangements but with the occasional odd meter or eyebrow-raising transition; and above all, a very personal look into the person making the music.

But beyond that Ms. McCarthy’s music seems to be a mixture of childhood memories communicated through the voice of adult musical sensibilities. She is no artistic slouch, having studied with principles of the American Conservatory Theater and Poland’s Gardzienice Theater, among others. And she clearly has learnt well the art of translating her thoughts into both music and physical expression, with her live performances being as much of a theatrical experience as they are a concert.

Despite the many things about the music that are unique, there are also a few resemblances that bear pointing out. Most striking for me is how much Ms. McCarthy’s vocals intonation reminds me of Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde (“Eyes of a Bird” and “Joshua” especially); while her primal forays are not unlike those of Kate Bush, and particularly circa ‘the Dreaming’. She doesn’t have Ms. Bush’s range (who does), but the combination of eclectic instrumentation, oddly metered arrangements and vocal contortions is quite similar (check out “A Mother and a Piano” and “Lucy Belle” for the best examples).

Another comparison comes in the form of Frykdahl, who I always thought channeled ‘Scary Monsters’- era David Bowie anyway, but he practically parrots him on “Lucy Belle”, “Still Here” and “Rising Din”. He also plays the majority of instruments on the album, by the way.

This album consists of a series of vignettes about families (or at least for the most part it does), and presumably the McCarthy family in particular, although who knows for sure. There’s a requiem for a departed son (“Joshua”), a child’s fantasy (“Nop of Time”), and an oddly dark spiritual family portrait (“Eyes of a Bird”), which is also the most ranging and ambitious track on the album.

But other songs are most abstractly related to the album’s central theme, including the disjointed and adapted Brigitte Fontaine cover “Eternal”, and a “Carousel with Madonnas” cover of a sixties Polish waltz written by someone named Zygmunta Koniezcyniego (talk about obscure).

There’s a fair amount of artistic hedonism here, but after a while it sorts of grows on you, and at least for me the opportunity to wallow in some of Ms. McCarthy’s musical self-indulgences and dark aural fantasies is a nice respite from an even darker and less fanciful reality. I’m not saying you’ll want to go hug a unicorn after listening to this or anything, but it’s a fun album anyway.

Not everything works equally well. The faux spiritual “Higher” (with church organ backing courtesy of Ms. McCarthy’s mother Michelina Tyrie and McCarthy’s own Kate Bush-like soprano primal screams) isn’t for everyone, although I have to admit it brought a smile to my lips the first time I heard it. This one is kind of like a chick flick or a George Michael album though – you know you shouldn’t like it and don’t want to be forced to endure it, but you probably won’t skip past it on the CD either.

The novelty wears a bit thin at times, especially towards the end of the album where “Eternal” sounds more like a Martha & the Muffins dance/trance track, and “Mouse Song” which isn’t much more than an afterthought. And the closing “Old and Light” is a pretty disorganized closing to an album that isn’t very neat or tidy to begin with. But all in all Dawn McCarthy and friends have put together an hour of rather unique music that is well worth the investment of time it takes to absorb all of it. In fact, this is the only Faun Fables CD I own but based on the strength of this one I just moved her other three to the top of my wish list and ordered them this morning. I don’t know exactly what can be expected from those, but this one will almost certainly be at least somewhat appealing to fans of modern folk music and avant-garde, multidiscipline expressionist art. I’m going to go with four stars for ‘Family Album’, and am looking forward to the others arriving in the mail soon.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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