An awakening, a searing clarity, epiphany – for Kevin Allan, aka Fair Mothers, these were the effects of reading classic novel The Stranger by Albert Camus. Camus was a Nobel prizewinning French author who pioneered Absurdism – the philosophy which deals with the conflict in the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life in a contrarily chaotic universe.
Fair Mother’s newest offering, In Monochrome, pretty much bleeds Camus. The album is the artist’s second this year. Symbiotically linked to its predecessor Separate Lives, In Monochrome is the weirder, more distant, and moodier brother of the two.
Capturing an existential lushness in its overarching sound, the album throughout maintains an ambience that leaves us feeling slightly off-kilter. As much as the feeling of disillusionment is a factor of Allan’s music, the poignant references to his family or to the future of the human race bring home a familiarity to the listener. Allan is undoubtedly a talented musician and lyricist, and now I’m wondering: why haven’t I listened to his music before?
Simple guitar riffs and familiar chords, from what has the feel of a cherished and dusty piano, are put to eloquent use. Quite the believer in community and working together to better something, his collaborators on the album are Faith Eliott, Dana Gavanski (both, vocals), Esther Swift (harp), Sam Mallalieu (drums), Pete Harvey (cello), and a guest appearance from Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail, on ‘Birds & Bees & Tiny Fleas’.
‘Birds & Bees & Tiny Fleas’ is just shy of 10 minutes and sounds like it could have been faxed from Neil Young’s seminal On The Beach album. The track is understated and simplistic, yet bursting with lamenting emotion. With its wah-wah guitar, an old piano playing away with beleaguered intent, and a strange wee bongo drum that seems happy just to be taking part, it’s really fuckin’ good. The powerful strings throughout carry the same vibe as watching a goodbye scene from an old black-and-white movie.
‘Monochrome’ was born from an intense argument with Allan’s wife, and the song carries the gravitas that comes with someone who has lived what he sings. It doesn’t necessarily have the intensity you’d imagine would come with a fierce argument, but instead provides reflection.
Final track ‘16:39’ is my personal favourite. It meanders along, with ideas that simmer away until the sound clears for Allan’s vulnerable voice: ‘The halo has slipped, it’s covering your eyes’. At its core a simple acoustic guitar strums, augmented by delicate piano, and the song builds organically with a weaving mix of heavily distorted electric guitar giving way to sublime cello. And then, that coda…bliss.
In Monochrome feels like a deeply personal piece of work, like it’s Allan’s surrender to the chaotic universe: a submission of his bare naked soul. All we have to do is enjoy the privilege of listening in.
In Monochrome is out from 7th August via Song, by Toad Records.