Fern Knight

Castings

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On the group's fourth full-length album, Fern Knight does a fantastic job at implicitly countering the now-overwhelming narrative among many indie rock bands that seem to think 1972 was all about Laurel Canyon and insipid harmonies. But with a song title sequence focused on the Tarot card deck, a King Crimson cover in the form of "Epitaph," and the kind of cover art that was cryptically spooky before goth was formalized as a term, Castings is something other, an extension of the band's dual roots in a deep cultural and musical history, and how that was interpreted by any number of performers from four decades previously and onward. Beginning with queasy feedback howls, gentle harp, and Margaret Ayre's gently invoked singing, Castings manages the neat trick of feeling like a concept album thanks to the thematic focus provided by the Tarot imagery without it overwhelming the music; if anything, it's the elegant, stately progression of the songs that stands out most, and by the time the album reaches the breathtaking "Long Dark Century," that sense of flow is paramount. If Ayre's lyrical medievalisms are potentially take it or leave it for listeners, the couching of the larger metaphors makes it more of a mental landscape than a Renaissance Faire re-creation. Meantime, the sudden changes in the arrangements, perhaps even more of an open nod to the prog rock inspirations at work than "Epitaph," keep seemingly straightforward confections like "The Poisoner" and "The Eye of the Queen" from ever being boring, as strings suddenly careen in, guitar parts bubble up, and choruses become majestic, sweeping blasts. "Cave of Swords," the album's sole instrumental, lets James Wolf's violin take a clearer bow along with the guest brass parts from Jon Natchez, at once celebratory and moodily elegiac. Somehow, though, that just seems to suit the band, and album, to a T.

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