(Drag City, CD)
Faun Fables are the brainchildren of San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Dawn "The Faun" McCarthy. Accompanied by a revolving cast of players, McCarthy delivers songs loaded with passionate, pagan imagery. FF's latest disc, The Transit Rider, is the musical equivalent of staring into cat's eyes: intriguing, if somewhat unnerving.
The group owes a good deal to the psych-folk practitioners of yore. Wordy surrealists Pearls Before Swine are touchstones, as are British occultniks Current 93. Influences aside, Faun Fables' knotty compositions are enchanting on their own.
McCarthy's untamed vocals are like a cross between indie songstress Cat Power and Heart's Ann Wilson. Alone, her flight-of-fancy melodies are interesting. When accompanied by frequent collaborator Nils Frykdahl's canny baritone, they're positively riveting.
"I am a transit rider, comings and goings are all the same," McCarthy sings on the haunting "Transit Theme." Her quasi-mystical prose is accompanied by chiming acoustic guitar, autoharp and spare percussion. The tune's minor-key lilt and witchy charm plays like make-out music for randy heathens.
Despite its seductive arrangement, "In Speed" is thornier. "Who cares about you - if you live or die," McCarthy coos over baroque instrumentation. Frykdahl answers with an outcast's contempt: "All I need is me and my thoughts . . . You've got a nail through your heart? I'd say you've got a nail through your soul." Somebody's been drinking sour mead.
"Roadkill" makes no attempt to hide the band's disdain for the modern world. In it, Frykdahl laments an automobile-felled coyote. "I am free to go my way while you are left there broken / With only burning Father Sun to grieve and bleach your bones as white as the moon," he sings. Wait till they put in a Starbucks.
"Fire & Castration" celebrates folksy amulets and homemade charms. According to the disc's liner notes, the tune comes from an ailing friend of Frykdahl's now-deceased brother. "She gave us the lyrics in one astonishing burst of iron-clad logic," Frykdahl explains. While he doesn't divulge the author's fate, her sentiment is telling: "The day that they work is the day that you know they weren't made in vain," she states.
Those with an aversion to Renaissance fairs will probably want to skip The Transit Rider. But if freethinking idolaters are your cup 'o blood, you'll love it. Catch Faun Fables at the Higher Ground Ballroom on Sunday, May 7, with Pinback and Pleaseeasar.