Three years on from their first album, Lightships, London avant-folk band Firefly have struck a match and become Firefly Burning for their second album Skeleton Hill. The resulting sulphurous heat produced has warmed their sound with an added urgency and a frisson of electricity, encapsulated in the urgent electronica-driven We Are A Bomb. This revitalised sound is no doubt down in no small part to producer Tim Friese-Greene, who I’m sure needs no introduction here.
The band have managed to keep the same line up in the intervening years between albums, and similar, if fuller instrumentation including John Barber’s Javanese gender barung, a mallet-hit percussive instrument similar to but smaller than a marimba. The voices are the centre of attention, led by Bea Hankey’s clear tones and full range. A fine example of the harmonies the band is capable of, along with some use of the gender barung can be seen in this video of a live performance of Beloved:
Beloved is in the more traditional mode of Firefly songs from the first album, but there is now an added layer of something, call it confidence, covering the songs on this album that has pushed Firefly Burning on to the next level. Fragile Friend is a lovely arrangement that goes beyond being “folk” or “rock”, it just is, and again I detect the encouragement of the producer, which has brought out an indefinable shimmering quality throughout the album.
The title track breezes in with Bea’s voice backed by the barest of musical accompaniment from a violin and a cello, and soon the others join in with choral harmony, creating an ethereal and floating ambience that will calm the nerves after a fraught day in the real world. The arrangement of Skeleton Hill recalls The Unthanks in its clear and effective delivery, despite being quite a complex piece of music. To cut to the quick, it is both delicate and powerful, and quite lovely. Who said avant music has to be angular and spiky?
Pioneer reaches a climax to the low-mixed backing of Philip Glass-like bubbling synths straight out of Koyaanisqatsi, which is fine by me. Setting Sun transmits a joyful urgency as its cadence gently climbs. The album bows out with the lovely and reflective Night Ocean, Bea’s voice gliding over a becalmed sea, leaving this listener feeling calm and at ease.
Skelton Hill is a mix of the traditional and the electronic, a mix that works surprisingly well, and an album that lives by the strength of its music alone, leaving genre pigeon-holing outside in the cold.
01. Unwritten (3:25)
02. We Are A Bomb (4:16)
03. Petrarch (Because of You) (4:12)
04. Beloved (5:40)
05. Fragile Friend (3:40)
06. White Noise (5:40)
07. Skeleton Hill (4:32)
08. Pioneer (5:07)
09. Setting Sun (4:06)
10. Night Ocean (4:05)
Total time – 44:49
Bea Hankey – Voice
Jack Ross – Guitars, Gongs, Percussion, Voice
James Redwood – Violin, Mandolin, Voice
John Barber – Piano, Synthesiser, Gender Barung, Percussion, Mandolin, Voice
Sam Glazer – Cello, Gongs, Voice
Auclair – Guest Vocals on Unwritten
Record Label: Fathom
Year Of Release: 2015