Wednesday, 3 June 2015


CD Review


You have to give it to them, Peatbog Faeries are seriously pushing the boundaries of what could be called folk music, fusing traditional Scottish/Celtic sounds with ambient, electro, dance and rock strands - a lot of which are produced by talented band member Ross Couper.

The Peatbog Faeries
There are a few folk bands which do this merging of modern music strands but fiercely Scottish Peatbog Faeries often seem to do it without really blurring the lines between the differing styles and in doing so it can feel often disjointed and rather shunted together.
You can't fault their playing on the traditional side of things with Peter Morrison's superb pipe and whistle playing alongside Couper's fiddle work but the problem is you can hear the joins between the differing styles on so many of their tracks. It's like all these modern synth sounds are bolted on and badly welded together. If you're a fan of the Peatbogs then it's more than likely not a problem, but if unsuspectingly you were expecting more folk Celtic music and you put on their latest CD, which is their seventh studio album, then from the first track, Is This Your Son?, you could easily think they put the wrong disc in the sleeve.
There is no arguing the traditional side of their music is top quality and Jakes On A Plane is one of the more subtle blends.
Tom In Front is a perfect example of when it doesn't quite fit together, the band open the track with an ambient voice then launch into traditional pipes and fiddle and it's easy to think well why start it like that? The Scottish sounds are good enough and the synthed intro doesn't really add anything to them.
Like Jakes On A Plane, Angus and Joyce Mackay is more subtle in its fusion of modern and traditional. It brings together a world sound, the sort of music that has come to be associated with the rainforest, and their signature pipe music and it's done very well, you can't hear the welds like you can on several of their tracks. It's a mellow, mournful tune but not in any way depressing.
With the Real North their pipe music seems almost incidental to the chilled out electronics of the main strand which is a curious way of doing things. It's a little like Massive Attack had decided to add some pipes for a change.
Spiders seems to reverse this, to begin with the sound of the traditional fiddle coming in strongly but this is soon joined by a drum and bass beat which is where it becomes more of a dance tune with strong seventies electro and funk sounds. The excellent fiddle playing from Couper does come back in though.
There is a real shift away from any connection to the traditional Celtic sound with The Dragon's Apprentice. The intro is very similar to Autobahn by Kraftwerk and morphs into something which wouldn't be out of place as the theme to a Dr Who Episode. There is pretty much everything in here a constant throbbing drum beat, rock guitar solo from Tom Salter, electronica and the pipe playing is as repetitive as the beat.
The Ranch, named after the place it was recorded, has a very strong 1970s funk sound with the opening more than resembling Boogie Nights. It even has the organ music hiding slightly in the distance then added into it is a very similar if not identical pipe solo.
Sounds on nature open The Chatham Lasses and give way to some seriously slick jazz-folk fiddle playing which in turn gives way to a change of pace and mellow guitar picking. This whole tune is much more coherent and holds together as a whole much better than many of the tracks.
The new album
Strictly Sambuca is the final track and is a dance anthem with seems to have forgotten to add any folk elements and so tagged it into the line up towards the end with what has to be said is some more impressive fiddle playing.
Peatbog Faeries are an acquired taste and Blackhouse is certainly trying hard to be cutting edge and there's a good chance it will find its way into the clubs and onto the turntables of dance DJs but there are times when you wonder if they want any connection to world of folk/traditional Celtic music at all.
It's not the kind of album that can be ignored, it's production is pretty impressive and you can hear a great deal of effort and work has gone into this album and it is likely to polarise opinion but anyone who expects to hear a heavy dose of traditional folk music will be disappointed, if you want to hear something different in a fusion of modern and traditional then you are likely to love it.

Blackhouse is out now on Peatbog Records