Words by Jamie Hallaman
The Douglas Firs are a fine wee outfit of spooks and dukes from Edinburgh; their fine debut album ‘Happy As A Windless Flag’ came out on the bonnie wee Armellodie label in 2011 and it pleased me greatly while still leaving me with a yearlong civil war earworm of “Gory, Gory, what a hell of a way to die!” So, with nowt but a couple of seasonal EPs to bridge the gap, here comes album number two, ‘The Furious Sound,’ big shoes and all.
Now, the debut sold itself to me on Twin Peaks references (the David Lynch show, not the crudely named Hooters-esque restaurant chain), which gave me the patience to take in and appreciate the album’s stop-motion (pretending that’s a music thing) passages but album number 2 is a lot less Lynch/Frost Teleplay and a lot more Witchfinder General. This album is Parsons Project Plotted on the East Lothian witch trials of 1590…back when all that horrible nonsense used to happen because mankind has always been a house party of hysteria and cruelty. Witch trials are an oddly awesome theme for an album, there’s a few out there and there should be more. According to the press release, the Firs took the idea very seriously indeed, songs here were recorded in forests, dungeons and the parishes of witch hunt leaders! Having written a few I know for a fact that you can’t trust what you find on a press release…but gee whiz, I hope these creepers are telling the truth, because that’s excellent…These guys must be in fine standing within their community to gain accesses to churches for the recording of their somewhat sacrilegious sophomore album. Tip of the hat there!
Musically there’s really no hole to stuff your pigeon but there’s flutters of genre, vocalist Neil Insh’s monotone gives material like “Alone” and “Fortress” a Quasi-Goth feel, recalling the less-charmless elements of Bauhaus, while “Backroads” combines the Acid-Folk mania of Comus’ ‘First Utterance’ with something approximating “Indie” – it’s a varied bag of twisted improv and loose chaos that works well with or without references to better selling albums. Post-Pre-Poe-Core-Woe-Pop is the genre I’ve dubbed it, you’re welcome to it.
Given the improvised nature of much of the album, it’s not uncommon to go a few minutes without a hook or even an audible lyric but ‘Furious Sound’ is carried for me by its themes of witchcraft, depravity, degradation and frenzy more than it is by any recognisable musicality. The record’s concept creates a world of its own where even simple lyrics like “we got carried away” seem to carry endless meaning, while each passage of sound conjures up images of black masses, burnings and secret trips into the “Black Forest“ (this possibly depends on your level of ignorance for witch trials, mine is particularly high). When you combine a canvas of this quality with the execution of the Firs, you’re really onto something; Neil Insh has a voice you want to trust, even when he tells you the most bizarre things imaginable, plus the percussion on this album is every bit as full and precise as historical accounts of these events are not, another thing to appreciate on the record is its depths, the album is littered with strings, saxophone, rich piano and dreamy harmonies. This isn’t an album for everyone to enjoy but it is one well worth experiencing, it’ll turn many people off within minutes but it is doubtlessly due to find a number of loyal fans over time. Though a little sparse, this is a layered and atmospheric album of great imagination and originality with moments of serene beauty, dynamic ingenuity, intense sadness and bitter claustrophobia. I love it…I just wish it came with a lyric sheet!
You can purchase The Furious Sound via Bandcamp.