(2008, Drag City)
The late French author Marguerite Duras once answered an interviewer’s question about women and home by saying that men move through spaces where women inhabit them. A Table Forgotten, the new EP by Faun Fables (Dawn McCarthy and chief collaborator Nils Frykdahl), would seem to underscore that statement. It’s the first of a projected series of releases documenting McCarthy’s ruminations about a woman’s experience of the realm of home. Together, A Table Forgotten’s four songs are just over 17 minutes in length, and take the kitchen as their room of rumination and consideration. On the surface, this seems to be a 180-degree turn from Faun Fables’ last offering, the mighty, weird, and eerie The Transit Rider, the McCarthy-written soundtrack for a theater piece of the same name that explored rootlessness, exploration, displacement, and yes, homelessness. But using surfaces to describe the aesthetic and folk-laden mystical and mythical worlds McCarthy inhabits and executes on her records is errant at best. If anything, A Table Forgotten is a logical next step. Songs about home, and in particular the kitchen, are less disorienting, but no less strange, though the mood is more celebratory than speculative. The music here is mostly acoustic, though Frykdahl uses an electric guitar from time to time, and a theremin — courtesy of violinist Meredith Yayanos — makes an appearance, as do harmonium, nylon-string guitars, hand percussion, bass, and flute. The brief set was co-produced by Fables andNurse with Wound collaborator Matt Waldron — who also contributes percussion and sounds to the mix. Also in the fold for this outing is Björk/Bonnie “Prince” Billy aide de camp Valgeir Sigurðsson, who co-wrote the haunting, contemplative “Winter Sleep” that closes the disc.
The tribal, percussive “With Words & Cake” joyously opens the set with McCarthy signing accompanied only by hand drums: “Welcome to a vast place/To a world you’ve arrived/I won’t deceive you birthday child/It’s safe as it is wild/With words and cake and candle bright/I offer you a guide….” On its refrain she is joined by Frykdahl: “And the happy clinks of cups and plates no one is alone/When crumbs fall down your hands and face, you’re never far from home.” There are references to offering lonesome travelers your hearth and home because “…a whistling kettle’s a special friend….” It’s a ditty to be sure. It’s answered by the lilting ballad “Pictures,” where flute, violin, and nylon-string guitar accompany one of McCarthy’s most beautiful vocal performances. The return to quark strangeness accompanies the title track with its keyboards and theremin amid the acoustic instruments, but its theme of a stationary object, once the center of a home, now a place to “drop things down,” is a sad place indeed. Yet all is well in “Winter Sleep,” the EP’s final cut. Despite its minor-key setting, halting pace, and forebodingly placed atmospherics, soon nuanced by lush textures of electric guitars, basses, and swirling violins, it reassures the listener with: “A place where nighttime lost its nightmare, where darkness lost its bite/Black became indigo and mineral blue soft with sparkling lights….” Here in the silence, the warm kitchen calmly awaits morning in the center of a woman’s home as the land sleeps in winter. This EP is simply glorious, if only it were a longer work. http://www.allmusic.com
With Words & Cake
A Table Forgotten