Dawn McCarthy hasn’t necessarily made it easy to read her Faun Fables. Through her dalliances with performance art theatrics, rustic film-noir atmospherics and heady conceptual songwriting – which reached a peak on 2006’s The Transit Rider – McCarthy and her primary Faun Fables sideman Nils Frykdahl have in part been ghettoised by both inverted snobbery and forgivable misunderstanding. However, thanks to the profile-lift of McCarthy adding her keening authoritative tones to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s acclaimed The Letting Go and a greater sense of inviting warmth, this latest Faun Fables LP deserves to reach far beyond a niche audience.
This isn’t to say that Light Of A Vaster Dark compromises the Faun Fables muse dramatically, given its diverse non-rock influences and its folk-opera thematics concerning the cyclical changes between light and dark across the seasons of life. Yet somehow its kaleidoscopic artistic vision is wrapped in a blur of earthiness and lushness that is consistently captivating and open-armed.
Whilst there are familiar and alluring nods to the back-in-vogue Britfolk ilk of Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band – through the soaring “Housekeeper,” the rugged “Parade” and the yearning “O Mary” – it’s in the wilder and weirder corners that Light Of A Vaster Dark really glows brightest. Consequently, the wonderful East European-slanted title-track masterfully builds itself around near a capella eeriness; the sparse death-rattling drums and multi-tracked vocals of “On The Open Plains” rouse and chill like a medieval military rally; the stomping tribalistic “Sweeping Spell” delivers an enjoyably macabre homage to domestic drudgery; and “Bells For Ura” conjures a minimalist percussive meditation that should appeal to Moondog and Steve Reich devotees alike.
Throughout Light Of A Vaster Dark there is an overriding sense of closeness and inclusiveness that draws you in and belies any accusations of pretentiousness that might otherwise come from straying into musical terrain far off the road so over-travelled. Although Faun Fables ultimately may remain a cult concern, stirring records like this do deserve to be belatedly discovered and lauded by musical archaeologists in a future age.