It’s a very sunny and not too cold November’s day in Finland and I have just been for a walk outside in the sunshine, listening for the second time to the new FARA album, Energy Islands.
Me and my wife have been lucky to have witnessed the band live at least a couple of times and their boundless joy and, well, energy have been captured so well on this album, not to forget their previous outing, Times From Times Fall, which was also an excellent album that really showcased the massive talent in the band.
Energy Islands seems to be almost a concept album in that almost every tune has a title is that refers to energy: there’s wind, there’s solar, there’s oceanic energy – nice!
If I am correct, this is connected at least in part to Orkney itself and their efforts at creating and developing clean energy based on the natural resources available on the islands. We have been to Orkney just a few years ago and completely fell in love with the place and we can certainly see the possibilities for Orkney to become a hotspot for clean energy in Scotland and perhaps the UK.
But back to the music. I think this may be an even more solid effort than its predecessor: the compositions are excellent throughout as is the playing, but more than before I feel that they have chosen unusually brilliant poems and texts for the songs.
For me, the most touching song on the album is Song of the Night. Composed to a poem by Duncan J. Robertson, a late Orkney poet and writer, the song’s description of Northern nights and storms giving eventually way to daylight, peace and hope is easy to read as a metaphor for the horrific happenings in the world today and the hope that we all must keep alive in order to carry on and make this world better for the future.
I doubt if the band intended it so, but as my country borders on Russia and we are painfully aware of what is happening almost next door to us, the Robertson poem and the heartbreakingly beautiful music turn the song into a hymn in my head; I know it’s totally removed from its original context, but this is how I experience it right now.
The other totally heartstopping moment is the instrumental The Hampshire, composed by Kristan Harvey in 2016 for the tragic shipwreck’s 100th anniversary remembrance. It’s a tune so lovely, equally filled with sadness and grace, it makes me wonder why we don’t remember our war dead more often this way: with dignity, compassion and love instead of parades and yet more shows of military power.
But there are also so many bright tunes, filled with that energy in the album title, from the opening track Solar to the mighty but fun waves of West Tide Story and perhaps even witch energy of Broom Power (what else could that refer to?), with Rory Matheson’s fab piano solo gradually evolving into an impressive minor key stomp by the whole band.
Finally, as a Finn, I have to mention Merry Dancers and Northener, two songs again composed to poems (first by Lucy Dougall, second by Margaret Tait). In their visions of the aurora borealis and the winter solstice, they convey feelings overwhelmingly familiar to me, and the music only enchances them. I am reminded of how Scotland, her islands and the Nordic countries are connected in so many ways by nature and history. It’s a connection I hope will only get stronger in the future.