Emily Fairlight – ‘Water Water’ from ‘Mother Of Gloom’ LP
In 2018 we experimented a little with the structure of the Unpopular advent series by forcing ourselves to choose records in a more or less chronological order from throughout the year. Perhaps it (more or less) worked because 2018 was a peculiarly consistent year, for when we considered following the same approach for 2019 we found ourselves very much struggling to admit entry to records from the early months in favour of ones released later. Plussing as which we felt that treating the whole series as a mix in itself would lend itself to a more organic sequencing. We will let the Unpopular audience (all three of you) be a judge on the success or otherwise of this approach.
All that aside though, there is certainly one record from those first few months of the year that we have found ourselves returning to with regularity. ‘Mother Of Gloom’ by Emily Fairlight may well have passed us by had it not been co-released in New Zealand and the UK by the Fishrider and Occultation labels, but even by the high standards expected of anything from these two labels ‘Mother Of Gloom’ is astonishing. Fairlight (real name Emily Peters) herself has described her music as ‘Doom Folk’ and whilst it is a fairly apt summation it also fails to capture the depth and breadth of her vision. Fairlight’s music reminds us of label mates Death And The Maiden in that whilst sonically they may appear to come from opposite ends of the spectrum (Death And The Maiden seeped in abstract electronics) they both manage to work a sense of intimacy from expansive overviews of dark places inhabited by (personal) demons.
On ‘Mother Of Gloom’ we find ourselves firmly placed within landscapes that are familiar from mediated exposure. We may have never visited them physically yet we feel we know them intimately from records, books, films. In album opener ‘Body Below’ for example we wander out with Martha Wainwright into bleached deserts where we encounter sun-scarred hobos who have wandered out of David Lynch movies accompanied by hoodlum angels with switchblade wings. ‘Time’s Unfaithful Wife’ meanwhile finds us treading the boards in Linda Ortega’s gothic country with a Bukowski paperback tucked in our back pocket. In the folds of ‘Private Apocalypse’ we discover old photographs rescued from years spent exposed to the elements, decomposed and ghostly yet immeasurably valuable and achingly poignant. On the five minute stretch of ‘Loneliest Race’ we are in the borderlands of Dorothy B. Hughes’ ‘Ride The Pink Horse’, trumpets forlornly accompanying Art Smith on his quest for justice.
Finally, in ‘Water Water’ we have a drinking song for the dispossessed (is there any other kind? Probably not) that comes over at times like Anne Pigalle singing in a dingy bar in Sierra Blanca (on the wrong side of the tracks, naturally). It’s Nick Cave playing Lucinda Williams doing a cover from ‘The Boatman’s Call’ or perhaps vice-versa. The whisky makes it gloriously impossible to quite tell the difference. Fairlight’s character in this song is firmly in control of her damaged destiny (we imagine her twin pillars of succour perhaps being Hefner’s ‘Hymn for the Alcohol’ and ‘Hymn for the Cigarettes’ ) and there is a delicious mirroring of Lloyd Cole’s rejection of moderation in the lines about letting “the fuckups settle down”. In both Cole’s and Fairlight’s lines we see a considered inversion of expectations. ’Norms’ are rejected. ‘Deviancy’ is embraced and reframed/reclaimed as the preferable option. Secret signs and cyphers to communicate with like-minded souls in a world where to be seen to be different is to be seen to be fair game.
‘Water Water’ then may be a song about hiding away in the dark corners, nursing a half pint of gin for what remains of our eternity, but it is also strangely, compellingly strong willed and defiant. Fairlight’s closing, repeated refrain of “I’ll drown before I sink” seems a curiously apposite and poignant line in the face of challenge, suggesting that whilst we may be damned to a dispiritingly gloomy future, at the very least we can hold onto the illusion of control in our personal destinies. Even if that can only be enacted through self-destruction.
We’ll drown before we sink, indeed.