Monday, May 16, 2011

THE DOUGLAS FIRS "Happy As A Windless Flag"

The opening track to The Douglas Firs debut album is called 'I Will Kill Again'. Glad to report it is not satanic Norwegian metal but instead a delicious slice of gauzy bliss-pop perfection. It ripples and glides effortlessly touching on several genres - delicate orch-pop, C86 fuzz-and-crackle and swooning shoegaze - without ever alighting on one but keeping its happy face on throughout (I suspect the lyrics may be darker but they are never clear or prominent enough - to these cloth-filled ears - to interfere with the mood of rapture). Don’t expect the rest of the album to follow suit though.

The pattern of song titles that gently mislead is maintained: ‘Sepulture’ is not as deathly and morbid and ‘Soporific’ not as drowsily sleepy as their titles suggest. But instead of nine re-treads of its opener, “Happy as a Windless Flag” proves to be subtly shape-shifting (but engrossing) beastie. If I pegged it down as ‘post-rock’ you might expect glacially slow and detached soundscapes. If I labelled to it as ‘experimental’ you might expect the wiful and obtuse; but it is none of these things. Instead these short, restless instrumental and vocal pieces are woven into a deeply satisfying journey of lush textures and ragged beauty.

Songs can be as sparse as ‘Nature and Nurture’ (simple chimes then woodwind over eerie fielding recording) or as complex and richly detailed as ‘A Military Farewell’ – which surrounds a mid-section of gentle ukulele strumming with the pomp of marching drums, accordion and massed choral singing in a bastardized American Civil War anthem. ‘Sepulture’ is a quieter, flickering minor-key instrumental that is one of the loveliest pieces of acoustic post-folk this side of Eagleowl. ‘The Shadow Line’ is a noisier three-part affair that starts with epic crunching guitars; ‘The Quickening’ is a folky village hall hoedown with sweet King Creosote-like crooning. No comparisons really stick to this twisty, elusive record but at times I can’t help think this is what Lone Pigeon re-recording Sufjan Stevens’ “Seven Swans” might sound like.

‘Balance of Halves’ contains the clearest lyrics (“ineffable sadness... one thousand freedoms we left behind”) before its propulsive drumming and scuzzy strained guitar leave the song to finish more joyful than devoid of hope. I suspect there is morbidity and disillusion just below the surface on “Happy As A Windless Flag” but I’m still picking my way through the rich seam of invention and sonic variety above this sub-strata to notice.

This debut took seven years to come to fruition. But this speaks of a patient stitching together of its constituent parts rather than indecision or prevarication. Head Fir Neil Insh claims that the album was “created not by technical skill, but from a synaesthetic love of pure sound”. He’s right on the second part (see this) but is wrong on the first. It takes talent to create a record of introspective, ambient post-rock but give it such emotional depth, such richness and variety and then bathe it all in a glorious pop sensibility.

I Will Kill Again - The Douglas Firs

The Shadow Line by The Douglas Firs by Armellodie

The Douglas Firs Happy As A Windless Flag [BUY]

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