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""The Hesperus has brought me here".... (a Deptford Phobic review)
on 14 June 2013
The weather changes quickly on the dales and moorland of North Yorkshire (I know I have walked them many times), where the band known as Wolf People set up to record their second album proper, "Fain". One minute the sun is shining then suddenly the breeze picks up and the skies darken; the rain coming on. As one dead rock star famously intoned "weather changes moods" (K.Cobain, 1991).
The theme of change echoes throughout the fruits of their labour and the content of "Fain" shows a band making further progress from their mightily impressive debut, "Steeple". Wolf People move stealthily into darker territory on these outings, the music tauter and more oppressive at times than even in the heaviest moments of its predecessor. This, on the whole, is a very good thing.
"Empty Vessels" opens the record (and I hope you buy it on vinyl with free download - natch) with a snatch of chiming circular picking guitars (think the endtro of `Wheels of Confusion' by Sabbath and you wont go far wrong) and an (almost) jaunty tempo before slipping into gear changes that those who have heard "Silbury Sands" for instance, will recognise as a trademark of the Wolf People method (with lyrical references to the timelessness of being). A feedback guitar solo with a double speed (?), Oldlfield-esque guitar pattern hovering behind picks us up and moves us along toward the denouement. It's a great start.
Next up is one of the strongest songs on the record and elevated to lead single, "All Returns". This is expertly constructed fare, guitar lines slither out of the speakers with menace before a gunshot snare beat sends the artillery through with duelling guitars playing a spiralling celtic -tattoo of notes before subsiding again heralding the foreboding words and the arrival of a booming bass line that Jah Wobble would have been proud to play on Public Image Limited's amazing "Metal Box". Then be treated to a massively overamped guitar break that to these ears is hugely influenced by the sterling effort committed to tape 46 years ago on "Vacuum Cleaner" by no-hit wonders, Tintern Abbey before sinking back into the quicksand. Ace.
"When the Fire is Dead in the Grate" follows with its combination of no-nonsense block chords and feathery guitars underpinning delivery of the lyrics that capture the mood of the music perfectly. The arrival of spectral balalaika overdubs as the exiting guitars duel on ever higher plateuas, evoking nothing more than the clouds floating by is a lovely touch and reminds this reviewer of the kind of ethereal layering so well executed by antecedents Mighty Baby on their breatkaingly beautiful "Jug of Love" record. Praise indeed.
"Athol" follows and its spidery rhythms and Fairport/Comus meets Sabbath combinations don't quite work but are certainly not without merit. It just pales a little in the exalted company it keeps.
Side two for you vinyl heads opens with a beautiful circular riff. "Hesperus" with its knowing nods to the epic poem, the fate of HMS Hesperus during World War II, and its offering of hope in its referencing of St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day to you, probably) is delightful. To me this song encapsulates the record perfectly, it is the most `Fain' song to be found here. It effortlessly flips from contemplation to overdrive led execution over and over again. I would love to hear this song stretched further out with additional instrumentation at some point in the future, as it has untapped reserves of potential in it - it could be their "Dark Star" if they wanted it to be.
"Answer" shimmers and entrances, again showing a Mighty Baby influence to these ears, sweeping gently along - its monkish guitar strands swaying in the breeze. It's brevity and sun bleached springtime air perfectly setting up the scene for the dread filled, bilious tale to follow.
"Thief" is part of the tradition of cautionary tale telling that has existed for centuries. It is bleak and dark and the vocals are oddly dislocated in their delivery adding to the sense of unwellness that pervades. It of course also has some great guitar breaks in it and a fuzz bass line that would scare Geezer Butler. Heavy. The eerie air of what Jim Morrison once remarked was the "sense of not being quite at home". Quite.
"NRR" (create your own acronym solution - I will go with "North Riding Rock"!) closes the record in no nonsense all-out style with mentally overdriven and vertiginous guitar riffing, reminding you that whilst Wolf People can be wistful at times, it's their lupine jaws that bite deep and don't let go. It's Cream on bad acid, a kaleidoscope of black (and a very good thing too).
All in all a fine second record, the chops of the guitar players inch skywards, the beef some people have with the vocals baffles me - what do you want? A mid-Atlantic drawl? The music has progressed (in a good way) and now I can hear Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd in some of the guitar duelling which can never be a bad thing, right? And the rhythm section is tight and deserves greater recognition. The drumming is on the money all the way through and Wolf People benefit hugely from such a great propulsive team in the engine room. `Fain' pushes the band closer to greatness. The next one should be their definitive statement.
So, should you buy it then? Yes you should. Four stars.