It’s a rainy Monday night in Soho but the order of service handed out at the door of Madame JoJos makes clear that this is a celebration: a one-time run through of Smoke Fairies’ third album, played in album order, tracks one through twelve. Apart from the Kate-Bush-as-a-Land-Girl video to ‘We’ve Seen Birds’, this is the first time we’ve encountered these songs and we’re eager to hear what’s different. The answer is: much and nothing. There’s a fuller, more layered sound but the essence of Smoke Fairies is as compelling as it always was.
The band has bulked up to a five-piece – fronted by Jess and Caf in Daz-white outfits - and the sound is correspondingly muscular. There are the same ethereal vocals (‘Hope Is Religion’) but the songs now expand at the rate of redshift galaxies, gathering in intensity and loudness; I’ve heard lots of bands down in MJJs before but I don’t think any have made me worried for the physical safety of the building when the drums and bass lock into a loud tectonic groove. There’s more happening now: a lot more keyboards, more droning guitars and experimental tones that at times put you in mind of Radiohead. There’s also a new boldness and directness, marked by Caf’s full-on guitar solo in ‘Want It Forever’.
It’s always hard to reach judgements on first hearing but ‘We’ve Seen Birds’ has an earworming quality while ‘Eclipse Them All’ has a dark gravity dragging you into its orbit, the sepulchral tones of the organ backing the seductive after-midnight vocals, and on songs like 'Shadow Inversion' they’ve found their own groove. There might be a little too much dry ice at times ('smoke fairies' doesn’t have to be so literally interpreted) but otherwise the band fit together tighter than the fingers of a tailored glove. After this performance, we’ve all desperate to re-acquaint ourselves with the songs on the record, having heard new possibilities that don’t discount the strange chemistry that drew us to the Smoke Fairies in the first place.