Faun Fables – Light of a Vaster Dark

January 01, 1970

(Drag City)

 

www.dragcity.com

 

An intoxicating presence part Mariana Sadovska,
part Sandy Denny – with a swell dollop of early Kate Bush – Dawn “The Faun”
McCarthy’s was that voice that haunted all of autumn 2006, care of label mate
Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s devastating opus The Letting Go.
Whereas her last Faun Fables full-length, The Transit Rider, was a huge,
exploded fête, the grim chill of that Will Oldham record has come back
‘round it seems on Light of a Vaster Dark — her sixth offering for the
venerable Chicago indie Drag City. Glacial, distant and with a lingering leitmotif of loss, it’s certainly not the record one would expect from a mother with
two daughters still in diapers. In fact, the last time Faun and her Fables put
something to tape, she was locked in a full-on embrace with the joys of
domesticity. To wit, the song “With Words and Cake” from 2008’s A Table
Forgotten
EP found her banging out that bliss on an actual kitchen table.
Thus, the beggéd question remains: just what the hell happened?

 

Well, the short answer, of course, is that Dawn
McCarthy lost someone very close to her in the intervening years. And as
artists are so inclined to do, Light of a Vaster Dark is her way of
working through, and ultimately working over, that grief. The catharsis trope
is trite and true, for sure, but at the same time, here it’s also yielded some
of the most original and cohesive workings in the entire Faun Fables catalog.
McCarthy’s plaintive coo has always been the fire in the hole aesthetically,
and as per usual, it takes front and center. “Housekeeper” and “Violet” make
that abundantly clear. Likewise, the list of instruments rendered reads more
like a grocery list than a folk band proper. (Why yes, that is a flour
sifter rattling along to the coven-ready strains of “Sweeping Song.”) But form
is where the group shows most of its maturation. Organized into three mini-suites,
replete with “Intro: Darkness” and “Outro: Light” bookends, for the first time
really, Dawn and her hubby Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Idiot
Flesh) prove that their tableaux tales – however morbid, however phantasmagoric
– can fully support the album length.

 

Just as Debbie Harry was Blondie and Ann Magnuson
will forever be Bongwater, it’s still clear on Light of a Vaster Dark that
Dawn McCarthy is the face, mouth and brains behind Faun Fables. It’s a weird
juxtaposition, no doubt, but the point stays — in as much as McCarthy is still
the center of the story. And while her center has expanded, quite literally,
since last we heard from her, things do not fall apart here. No matter how
bleak a song like “Bells For Ura” gets, that center always holds. If justice
were ever actually served in indiedom, McCarthy would move at least as many
units retrofit as that other new, weird American female with the idiosyncratic
voice on Drag City’s roster. Like death, justice is blind as well, and in peddling
in the former, McCarthy’s fables may finally find the respect – and in turn,
the audience – she so obviously deserves. The darkness may indeed be vast, but
like any mother worth her milk, Dawn McCarthy knows there’s still light
nonetheless.

 

 DOWNLOAD: “Violet,” “Bells For
Ura” LOGAN K. YOUNG

 

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