Sometimes people assume progressive rock should be ever-changing, always experimental and constantly ground-breaking. But sometimes, when you’re lying in your bed with a book to read and a cup of tea, and when you’re not in the mood for listening to a 25-minute experimental avant-garde prog-jazz opus, you look for familiarity and simplicity. Berlin-based prog-folk outfit Favni, formerly known as “Fauns”, achieves exactly this intimacy with their newest album Windswept. Composed of brothers Jan-Peer, Falk and Nils Hartmann on guitars, bass and drums respectively, Tom Glase on guitars and the incredible Kirsten Middeke providing flutes, viola and vocals, Favni masterfully mixes technical virtuosity with emotion and grace, giving us one of the most enjoyable listens of the year.
Yearning For You opens the album with three minutes of instrumentation that would be highly reminiscent and almost nostalgic to those ears who have been acquainted with the classic sound of ’70s prog rock. Through its intro riff influenced by Pink Floyd’s Dogs, the song engrosses the listener with a promise of familiarity, followed by a long keyboard solo introducing the album’s signature ’70s feeling. This section, serving as a good prologue to what will come after, also functions in introducing us to the technical competence of its members. Following the introduction, Mellotrons and keyboards provide a hollow, eerie soundscape over the vocals of Jan-Peer Hartman, with backing vocals of Kirsten Middeke and synth melodies enriching the track. Moments of familiarity come and go with keyboard solos and synths taken straight from Pink Floyd’s golden era. Yearning For You serves as a safe yet well-composed introduction to the album.
Fare-thee-well establishes the pastoral folk sound of the album that was lacking in the prog-by-numbers album opener. Utilising the graceful voice of Kirsten Middeke, the song perfectly puts together a melancholic yet optimistic musical effort. With Middeke’s vocal melodies drawing inspiration from legendary Annie Haslam of Renaissance and her equally proficient viola instrumentation, this catchy and enchanting track certainly proves to be a tour-de-force for the band’s only female member. It also sets the bar in terms of emotion for the rest of the album that is barely equalled.
The next song, Leaf in the Wind, takes the opposite approach as a minimalistic folk piece with the percussion of Nils Hartmann taking centre stage. His pastoral, almost primitive drum-work plays as the backbone of this rhythmic brew of folk and post-rock. Although not as poignant and poetic as the other songs on the album, it nevertheless should be applauded for its technicality and composition.
Imaginary Necromancy, following Leaf in the Wind brings back the folk ballad sound of Fare-thee-well. Though a derivative of the previous ballad, Middeke’s vocal prowess continues to impress and the drum-viola pairing toward the end makes a good outro. The Visionary, unlike those that came before it, is a guitar-heavy song and a classic prog rock piece. The bombastic guitar riff that shows itself throughout the song remains memorable in the head long after the album is over. Guitarist Tom Glase sublimely showcases his technical virtuosity and his talent in conveying emotion through his instrument. He is definitely the star of this one, however Kirsten Middeke’s flute solo in the middle and Falk Hartmann’s heavy bass work throughout the song should not be disregarded either. A combination of the members’ individual efforts makes The Visionary one of the compositional and technical peaks of the album.
Summer’s Over, on the other hand, is definitely the album’s most dynamic and experimental song. It opens with a simple, yet beautiful triad of piano, viola and acoustic guitar. As the lyrics read “summer’s over, winter has begun”, so does the song conveys this brooding despair through the melancholy of Middeke’s viola. But then, winter comes. And with the winter, electric guitar and heavy bass melodies dominate the song. The explosive guitar riff in the middle supported by Falk’s bass reaches a metallic heaviness that provides a great contrast to the album’s preceding mellowness. Unfortunately, this powerful instrumental composition is let down without Kirsten Middeke’s elegant voice. The male vocals used instead fail to achieve the level of emotion and passion existent in songs dominated by her presence.
This disappointment endures throughout the rest of the album. In the Grey, the longest song, starts with weak male vocals that takes the listener out of the song and the emotion it tries to express. Barring the vocals, however, In the Grey is another impressive instrumental accomplishment from Favni. While the flute solo about 5 minutes into the song masterfully constructs an idyllic soundscape, the subsequent electric guitar solo excellently subverts the established tone and leaves the listener in awe as the synth-laden outro closes the song.
The album finishes with Leaving another song of immense familiarity paralleling the album’s opener, Yearning For You. The beautiful flute and acoustic guitar melodies carrying the song is certainly reminiscent of the works of symphonic folk bands of ’70s. This slow yet effective conclusion to the album is also one of the most emotion-filled moments.
Favni’s Windswept is a great example of progressive folk music. It is not as ground-breaking or creative as other musical achievements of the year, however it is a good listen for those who ask for beautiful melodies and a pleasant familiarity on a boring rainy afternoon whilst looking out of the window.
01. Yearning For You (6:46)
02. Fare-thee-well (4:23)
03. Leaf In The Wind (7:10)
04. Imaginary Necromancy (5:28)
05. The Visionary (7:07)
06. Summer’s Over (7:55)
07. In The Grey (10:00)
08. A Rainy Autumn Day (7:43)
09. Leaving (7:33)
10. Cuiviénen [live] (11:52)
11. The Path (8:56)
12. In The Grey (8:32)
Total Time – 93:29
Jan-Peer Hartmann – Vocals, Electric & 12-String Acoustic Guitar
Nils Hartmann – Drums, Flute, Guitar & Vocals
Tom Glase – E-Guitar
Falk Hartmann – 4 & 6-string Fretless Bass
Kirsten Middeke – Viola, Flute & Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Date Of Release: 15th April 2016