Apparently, ‘All Returns‘ – the majestic first single from, and the ideal introduction to, Wolf People‘s second album – was inspired by a dream where frontman and songwriter Jack Sharp had the contents of his soul measured and dissected by an acquaintance.
Judging by Fain, said soul-charting session must have uncovered a pile of well-worn vinyl by the likes of Fairport Convention, Trees and Bert Jansch in the arts appreciation regions of Sharp’s mind. On their second album, Wolf People amplify the healthy appreciation of English and Scottish folk song traditions (as interpreted by the late ’60s British folk-rock movement) that has bubbled under their prog-fuelled fuzz-rock templates on past releases.
Although the album’s influences are easily tracked, it’s far from a case of meritless mimicry. Much as the masters of vintage British folk-rock took musty inspirations and moulded them in the shape of the times they operated in, the London four-piece mix and match ingredients to create sounds that, whilst respectful of what has gone before, are unmistakably rooted in the here and now. The results are frequently mesmerising.
Recorded during ceaseless rains in an isolated house on the Yorkshire Dales, Fain‘s bleak beauty resembles the surroundings it was created in. Remoteness from modern-day concerns infuses most of these eight songs. Much of the album seems to broadcast from some unspecified imaginary past, a location marked with hardship and ceaseless toiling but also unquenchable thirst for rebellion, a place where unknown beings hide in wait for the sun for 10,000 years (‘Empty Vessels’), revenge for the sufferings of those who work all day with blistering hands pours forth like floodwater (‘Athol’), and notorious highwaymen are caught, paraded in front of the blood-baying public and dragged to the gallows (the remarkable ‘Thief’).
An ability to create a totally convincing alternative universe via beautifully crafted lyrics; British folk-informed compositions; the freely breathing, tight-but-loose execution that accepts few extra ingredients to the sound of a superbly tuned-in band playing together in a room: in many respects, Fain resembles Midlake’s downbeat masterpiece The Courage of Others. Unlike their flute-wielding kindred spirits, however, Wolf People are plugged in, fully charged and kneeled down at the altar of two guitars-bass-and-drums rock ‘n’ roll orthodoxy. The autumnal tones of the songs are leavened with startling bursts of musical muscle-flexing: the heady guitar interplay frequently brings to mind the likes of Arbouretum and Dead Meadow, whilst the mighty dynamics of ‘Athol’ and ‘NRR’ carry a strong whiff of Black Sabbath’s loose-limbed heaviness.
Elsewhere, the hypnotic instrumental coda that crowns the simultaneously serene and confrontational ‘When the Fire is Dead in the Grate’ bows down to the momentum-building potential of drums and bass, with results that bring to mind Swedish psych-folk rock cult heroes Dungen. The complicated song structures (‘All Returns’ goes through four parts during the 80 seconds before the vocals start, and that’s the single) are informed by vintage prog rock. However, what might initially sound like an overwhelming array of ideas eventually becomes Fain‘s greatest strength, as all those rapidly shifting motifs and riffs unveil their razor-sharp fangs.