IT’S BEEN all of eight years now since Cambridgeshire post-folk collective Fuzzy Lights have graced our ears with an album, that being Rule Of Twelfths; but the planets have aligned favourably for such a sonic missive and, scrying the near future, their fourth album of atmospheric acid-folk, Burials, will be handed down to us come July 2nd.
And eight years away has given the quintet – singer and violinist Rachel Watkins, guitarist and electronica guru Xavier, her husband, guitarist Chris Rogers, bassist Daniel Carney, and drummer Mark Blay – ample time to stretch out, morph, incorporate an innovative array of other genre influences into their psychedelic folk-rock.
It still draws on an aesthetic base of the grandmasters of the form: Richard Thompson, Trees, et al – but you’ll also hear within much less expected sonic scapery – Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor even.
Which outward musical extroversion comes twinned with an intimate lyricism, a personal theming, even: opener “Maiden’s Call”, for instance, deals with singer Rachel’s miscarriage and the emotional upheaval that resulted; “Under The Waves” examines the erosion and destruction of our coral reefs, a canary warning for our changing subaquatic sphere; while “The Gathering Storm” is rallying cry for women’s rights, calling for a collective response to the prejudice which is still institutionalised around us.
Match these elements together – strong lyrics from a great English voice, and the leap forward out, but never uprooting from, the folk root system of the band – and the result is an enthralling, multifaceted record, woven with the intricacy and dazzle of a souk tapestry.
“Maiden’s Call” was the first single culled from the album, and you can watch the subtly supernatural video for that below. Singer Rachel Watkins drapes her otherworldly vocals over a tune that owes as much to West Coast psych as it does to the English folk tradition; a slow psych bass figure, acid-folk guitars actually properly erupting in heat-haze dust after the slow, smoky build. They practically saw with a freakout abrasion. It proceeds with self-assurance and a gently dark touch; wide eyes and wide grin, something clasped firmly behind its back. Violins lament, and it seems to have a taproot in pre-crash Fairport and the otherly seeking of Espers.
“Maiden’s Call is a song about loss.” Rachel recounts. “It was written shortly after I had a miscarriage and documents the time where you are attempting to come to terms with that.
“It also reflects upon the feeling of connection I found to the many women who have lived these moments in their own lives and the gratitude I felt for that relationship.”
Of the video she says: “We wanted to represent the theme of the song in a way that was not too overt, mixing together elements of ritual and tradition that are echoed in the lyrics. We are imagining a transition from childhood to adulthood that is tied to the earth, with the use of chalk face-paint and the deer’s antlers emphasising this connection.
“We had the extra challenge of creating a video during lockdown, so this became a family effort with our son happy to play a starring role.”
“Songbird” is as far from polite observation of the English folk canon as is possible: squeals of feedback, snares pinging and perspiring like Fugazi in their pomp, it’s a full-on, hard-edged odyssey out to the more metallic edges of post-rock, Rachel reining that towering guitar howl in – just – on the honeyed verses, her voice like silk taut in the baying electric storm, a songbird of cut-glass strength as E strings and violins wail like abraded maritime cabling. It’s genuinely explosive, a thrill of mantric riffing and sonic tumult that will leave you flattened in your chair by its giant hand.
You will need time to recover from that, which makes the sparer introversion of “The Graveyard Song” a welcome calm, at least musically; a courtly air of spectral mystery, invoking green-lore paradigms such as the eternal yew: “Tread lightly where the yew trees grow / A thousand years come and go,” Rachel intones, singing out the mystery of “branch and bough”; catching in observation a child playing in that resting place, soon grown, soon … gone, even. It’s a mysterious song of how the arboreal, for all its seeming stillness, outlives us many times over; Rachel almost observing as that quiet, verdant yew, like the trees in Richard Powers’ Overstory. And where it might conclude with a deft violin flourish, it instead scalds into a valedictory acid rock.
“Haraldskær Woman” meditates on the Danish bog body, a 50-year-old-woman of the 5th century committed to the eternity of the wetlands. Xavier Watkins and Chris Rogers’ guitars chime in spacious consort, knowing what to give and what to imply, what to hold back; Rachel voice is plosively gentle, lamenting this solitary life so bizarrely preserved and handed down the centuries to us, a stomach full of blackberries offered to god or gods unknown. Brushed drums and a sorrowful, masterful turn on the violin wrap this intorverted essay.
“Under The Waves”, the song of subaquatic ecological warning, is full-on drone-psych pastoralism, violin and feedback freeform freaking as if at a Golden Gate happening, before settling into a stout, proud and necessarily oppositional swing. “Under the waves, we sink or swim,” sings Rachel, who explains: “It was written in response to the effect of the climate crisis on the oceans and the devastating effects a rise in global temperatures are having on the fragile ecosystems that exist beneath the waves.
“It’s a love song about a relationship that is unsustainable and destructive to the detriment of both parties, with the lamentation of what we have lost struggling against the inertia that has led us all to this point.”
We twin in theme on “Sirens”, those mythical sea beings who call the unwary to their watery world. Crisp fuzz riffs and a double-beat break propel this witchily delicious acid-folker on. But beware the current siren song, amplified across social media, we’re warned.
Lyricist Rachel Watkins explains: “This song deals with the divisions in our society that have been amplified over the last few years since the rise of the far right in mainstream politics and in the media. It’s a dark love song that tries to figure out how can we live with one another when there is so much hate and resentment.”
“The Gathering Storm” heralds the end of the record, concludes a flipside quartet with an overarching elemental theme: it’s all echoing bass string riff setting a thundery ozone, the air thick with that deep hum, Rachel sweet and caressing among atmospheric, Tim Buckley chord play. The drums have a Talk Talk earthiness; you can feel the air turn damp, the rain front approach. Guitars begin to loom with that sweet, bending chaos of shoegaze, which lends a fantastic, lowering gravity. Music for a favourite hillside on a day of slate-grey cloud and beaded, soaking bracken; music to glory in the smallness of oneself amongst it all.
Eight years away, time, on the evidence of Burial, spent supremely wisely investigating different sonic dynamics. It’s an album of many musics woven well, but with a silver thread of the band they’ve always been glittering in the pattern. Rachel is the folk anchor in this album, the rich vein of vocal nourishment; it’s her crystal clear, dulcet and supremely English melodic diction which act as the mycelium, the underlying system which keeps the album coming from one place while it fans out into an encapsulating faerie ring with eyes to expand its territory far. You have to wonder where they’ll turn next, how magical that might be. Way beyond folk and folk in essence all at once, it’s record that’ll bring you much reward.
Fuzzy Lights’ Burial will be released by Meadows on July 2nd digitally, on limited CD and limited vinyl; you can get your order in now at Bandcamp.