Kevin Allan’s Fair Mothers project releases the second, more experimental project of 2020 with ‘In Monochrome’. Featuring guest appearances from Faith Eliott, Dana Gavanski (vocals), Esther Swift (harp), Pete Harvey (cello) and Jonny Lynch from Pictish Trail, the album was recorded at The Happiness Hotel in Edinburgh over the past couple of years and expores themes of isolation from the world, from those you love – and from yourself.
Intense drums that gradually build up and gentle piano notes signal the start of the fang-tastically (sorry) titled opener, ‘Magic Bullets for Dracula’. The words ‘Weren’t you enough?’ reverberate around the unsettling soundscape that sits somewhere between Tom Waits, Mount Eerie and Radiohead. Clocking in at almost 10 minutes, ‘Birds & Beas & Tiny Fleas’ follows and this experimental, distorted combination of electronica, miserabilia and post rock starts off largely instrumental before haunting, echoed vocals dual with each other as they convey worries about the future of humans… This is perfectly summed up by the closing soundbites of nature battling with electronic noise. Recent single ‘Harpy’ is up next and this macabre tale finds Kevin and Faith asking what’s the worst that could happen when you return to the scene of a crime amidst some intense riffs.
The poignant and powerful ‘In Black Covered’ opens with acoustic strums and an outpouring of emotion amidst some perfectly pitched strings – ‘Personally I don’t need this, truth be told, right now. Say the right words and you’re a genius but you can’t fix my vow’ – while the stripped-back ‘Unwinding Road’ is both soulful and sombre, coming off like a miserabilist Sufjan Stevens: ‘A winding road, all you know. There are versions of me, there are versions of you’. ‘Crazy Lamb’ opens with laughter breaking up the vocals (something we always love to hear in recordings) before Kevin delivers the fateful line: ‘Throw away the Queen’. This is followed up by a warning that ‘They’ll turn your skin ino a golden fleece, then you’ll roam in the way of the middle of the Lord’. Written after an intense argument with his wife, Kevin’s title track is dark and reflective with its opening words of ‘You hardly said a word since you quietened down. Hold back your fears, Keep them from me’ and then the admission ‘We’ll let cold winds into our home’. As Faith delivers some lilting ‘sha la las’ lifted from The Shirelles Burt Bacharach-penned song ‘Baby It’s You’, Kevin asks ‘What do they know?’/
‘16.39’ closes the record with a statement of ‘I hate these dirty lies’ and ‘Welcome to the darkness, celebrate the darkness, walk into the darkness’ being delivered amidst huge-sounding riffs The Twilight Sad or The Jesus and Mary Chain would be proud to call their own before cello, gentle keys and natural, ambient background music brings it to a climactic end.
Although there’s darkness in ‘In Monochrome’, you’ll want to embrace it.