Her other musical endeavors include co-writing and co-directing the alternate score to Czech new wave film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders with cohorts Greg Weeks and Brooke Sietinsons in The Valerie Project (Drag City, 2007). Fern Knight is the eponymous third full-length release from this fixture on North Philadelphia’s internationally renowned musical community. This record fully unleashes her style of melding acoustic and electronic sounds, her careful orchestration alongside the improvisational strengths of the quartet, well-placed strings and crystalline vocals. Displaying her classical roots and psychedelic leanings, Fern Knight will be released into the world by the VHF label on May 5, 2008. The new recording highlights the sonic cohesion of the quartet, featuring longtime member Jesse Sparhawk on harp and electric bass, Jim Ayre on Flying V and drums/percussion and noted Sun Ra scholar James Wolf on violin.
The album was skillfully captured on 24-track analog tape by Greg Weeks at Hexham Head and mixed by Brian McTear at Miner Street Recordings. The calm surface of harp, cello and violin are juxtaposed against the perfectly timed distorted squalls of a Flying V with the grounding blanket of electric bass underneath. All throughout is a dark undercurrent of lyrical and vocal mystery. The overall effect is a lush and pastoral ode to all things living, a running theme that winds through the lyrics: “All is lost / and all will run / over graying ground / to the rays of the sun,” sings Wienk in the album’s closing track “Magpie Suite: Part III.” The spirit conveyed on Fern Knight (vhf #110) is that of a beautiful green age in an apocalyptic landscape about to be laid to dust and its struggle to escape this end. Music for Witches and Alchemists was released on CD on VHF and vinyl on Eclipse Records, with hand-screened covers by Monoroid.
In 2007, FK songs will appeared on four notable compilations: Ptolemaic Terrascope Magazine #36, WFMU, Camera Obscura Records and Cuneiform Records. At the heart are Margie's strong voice, cello/string arrangements, and guitar, leading the tunes with feeling and subtlety. With its fourth album Castings (vhf records), Fern Knight weaves an uncommon sound from far-flung musical roots. Under classically trained cellist/guitarist/vocalist Margaret Ayre's unwavering direction, this DC / Philadelphia quartet continues to gracefully color her tightly arranged, smartly produced songs with echos of British folk leanings in the manner of The Strawbs, Sourdeline's ancient trad-folk and old-school riffage in the vein of English progressive cult-rockers Asgard. Juxtapositions of the arcane and modern in her music and life in Philadelphia drew Margaret to pen Castings, a song cycle exploring how the ancient divinatory art of the Tarot and the well-worn archetypes contained therein continue to flow through present day society. The album was recorded in a Gothic mansion in the Brandywine valley in PA in a snowy part of January 2009. A perfect time and place to record an album influenced as much by metal as Medieval–the old-soul surroundings of the stone and wood-walled rooms lent themselves well to the resulting sounds captured by bandmember Jim Ayre. Castings has a warm, analog feel, with looser and louder performances from the quartet than on their 2008 eponymous album.
The group stretches out on rockier fare like "The Poisoner," growling with fuzz, while leaving plenty of room for softer moments of beautiful clarity. There's "jammy" moments here, but everything is expertly sized and placed. As on the self-titled record, Jesse Sparhawk’s harp and James Wolf’s violin provide the heart of the sound in many spots, a unique strategy that lets the band update the classic genre forms and styles while making them their own. From the opening squalls of “From Zero to Infinity,” to the majestic epic “Long Dark Century,” the reflective mood of the album is cast in stone, mirrored in the starkly gorgeous artwork by Derek Moench.
Lyrically, the opener chronicles the journey of the Fool to the Magician; a willingness to step blithely off the cliff of life to whatever lies ahead. The third track “Pentacles” offers a glimmer of sunlight poking through the darkness with its layers of vocal harmonies and hushed orchestration. Here, the lyrics observe the turning of life's wheel of fortune and mysteries, and the end modulates to a gradual acceptance of fate, sung as a mantra: “Your pentacles are made of gold.” “Cups + Wands” pairs two unlikely suits and their corresponding elements, water (cups) and fire (wands), to elicit a powerful force. The album's closer, “Crumbling Stairs,” Margaret describes this way: “I wrote it originally as a wedding song dedicated to my husband, Jim.
By the time we recorded it for Castings, the lyrics seemed to take on some darker hidden meaning, but really, it started as a love song, an ode to a new path and how it would turn into one well-worn and deeply loved.” Respecting the way in which the wheel turns from the old to the young, their cover of King Crimson's 1969 epic doom classic “Epitaph” balances the second album side–a nod to their apocalyptic proggy ancestors and shared thematically-hewn observances of devolution of humanity. “Zero” borrows “Epitaph”'s imagery: “cracked projections of a people long gone, transfixing light breeds confusion” (from “Epitaph”'s “as I crawl a cracked and broken path” and “confusion will be my epitaph”). Trading their own cello and violin for the original's signature mellotron, the group channels the vibe of the original while remaining in their own element. Check out the band's website for tourdates, tunes and pics: www.FernKnight.com Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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