Raising The Fawn
The North Sea
t’s uncommon for a new record to have as much immediate impact on me as Raising The Fawn’s second album did. As soon as “The News” started and second guitarist Julie Booth began to coo, my mind was yanked backwards to 1997 and Spiritualized. What struck me so strongly was that for maybe the first time since Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space I experienced musical love at first listen. That first song, in each case, was good enough that I just knew I’d wind up cherishing the album that contained it.
But while Spiritualized are, broadly speaking, space rock (or maybe just drug rock), Raising The Fawn are ocean rock. Or at least, they were; this album’s troubled genesis involves half of the group (Booth and drummer/producer Jon Drew) leaving after The North Sea was completed in 2002. In the interim singer/guitarist/founder/Broken Social Scene participant John Crossingham and bassist Scott Remila recorded more songs and issued an EP (2003’s By The Warmth Of Your Flame) before enlisting a new drummer (Dylan Green) and belatedly releasing The North Sea.
During the interval Crossingham and Remila tried not to play these songs too often, so the album wouldn’t be stale when it arrived. But listening to it now, I’m not sure it could be stale.
The mood is meditative rather than distressed, plaintive rather than urgent, especially on the second side (titled “lost at sea” on the back of the album). Guitars surge and ebb in ways that will be familiar, and welcome, to anyone who likes the Dirty Three (and this record naturally shares an atmosphere with their Ocean Songs), while underneath Drew either pulses gently (“The News”) or pounds relentlessly (“Drownded”). Remila’s bass work is the crucial piece of the musical puzzle, though; this music isn’t particularly rhythmic, but his unobtrusive, powerful playing is what carries most of these songs. “Top To Bottom” for example, opens with nothing but his low, looping growl, laying the groundwork for the most foreboding track on the album.
Crossingham’s voice bears a strange similarity to David Line of the undervalued English band Seafood, and between his keen and Booth and Remila’s softer backing work the songs are as strong vocally as musically. Sometimes the effect is devastating; when “July 23rd” subsides into an endless cymbal hiss and the refrain “Goodbye Richie Lee” (making them the second band to pay tribute to the dead Acetone singer, after Spiritualized) the effect is quietly brutal.
Although The North Sea does often tend towards the darker edge of the emotional range, it’s not all doom, gloom and lost ships; “Gwendolyn” is effectively sunny and hummable, and even a darker track like “Home” carries with it an undercurrent of hope.
The North Sea ends with two epics, both just over ten minutes long, to dubious effect. Although both “Drownded” and “ETA” are good songs and neither wears out their welcome, putting them back to back after six shorter songs lessens their intended impact. And although Raising The Fawn are adept at maneuvering their way around a longer track, some of the tracks here have meandering outros that don’t do much to improve the album; “The North Sea” itself has three and a half minutes that my Discman labels as an intro to the next track, and they go by pretty slowly.
But even if it’s a little under-edited, The North Sea still exerts a mighty pull. Crossingham and company may have moved beyond this work by a few years, but this strong, spacious album of nautical rock is still something to be proud of.