"Dirty blues-rock" is about the last thing that comes to mind when thinking about Smoke Fairies, whose music is most strongly rooted in ethereal indie folk. But it seems someone in their circle has been listening to something featuring gritty guitar textures with a side of slide, since that's the unexpected yet prominent new flavor on Smoke Fairies' fifth album, 2020's Darkness Brings the Wonders Home. The opening track, "On the Wing," is built around a faintly ominous folky melody with the graceful harmonies of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies hovering overhead, while in the middle distance there's a buzzy electric guitar playing bluesy licks and slide riffs. Not all the songs feature quite so much fuzz, but the tougher six-string attack becomes this album's signature by the time "Super Tremolo" closes out the set. The rough guitar certainly gives Darkness Brings the Wonders Home a harder edge than their best-known work; however, what's most surprising is how little it changes the overall impact of the music. Blamire and Davies traditionally deal in atmosphere as much as melody, and their sense of doom-struck beauty fuses well with the bolder guitar sounds; there's a touch less mystery but a good bit more dread, and dread made beautiful is a big part of what Smoke Fairies are about. A number of songs on the album deal with the uneasy balance between humans and the natural world, and the arrangements offer a subtle yet effective parallel, with the bittersweet lilt of the harmonies playing thrust-and-parry with the electric snarl lurking nearby. While Darkness Brings the Wonders Home finds Smoke Fairies toying with a new and different approach, it also reinforces what they do best; it's a detour that happens to take them someplace worth visiting.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming