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Fawning “Illusions of Control” (2021)

So… this arrived in the mail yesterday and I finally have a moment to myself where I can spin it in peace and check it out.

Before I begin, let me state for the record that I am a fan of shoegaze when it’s done right. THIS is definitely done right! It has little elements of so many of my favourites that I just don’t know where to begin. I hear the influence of Slowdive, Revolver , Secret Shine, Monster Movie, Airiel, Ride, Whimsical, and Blind Mr Jones. But then, I also hear Julee Cruise and Cocteau Twins.

I suppose I could start by saying album opener “At Fault” gave me a very non-shoegaze Julee Cruise kind of vibe, which I liked (as does album closer “Linger”). The music builds a dreamy world within itself that is evocative of the mist filled mountains of Twin Peaks, without that famous guitar riff though still featuring female vocals wrapped in swirling reverb, very much in keeping with the whole vibe of Julee Cruise‘s Floating/Into the Night LP, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But then the second track kicked in and I was wrapped in shoegazey cotton wool.

Up Tight (Her Eyes)” and “Wait” were jaw droppers. I got the same chills down my spine that I got the first time I heard Slowdive‘s Just for a Day album. The thunderous, reverb and echo soaked drums of “Up Tight (Her Eyes)” dragged me instantly back to the summer of ’91 and I found myself entranced. All of side one flows together like a wonderful trip through the clouds, or a lazy day floating down stream.

Then along comes a shock that I really wasn’t expecting: guest jazz saxophonist Larry Schneider joins the band for a sax solo at the end of “Nothing Matters”, bringing side 1 to a close. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does.

Let’s be clear about something: I am not a jazz fan. Mostly, I don’t enjoy listening to jazz. There are the occasional pieces that I can appreciate, and there are a few artists who I end up really enjoying despite the “jazz” moniker attached to them, but in general jazz doesn’t do it for me. I just don’t like it. It’s either too slow, too chaotic, too sappy, too traditional, too unorthodox, and sometimes its all of the above at the same time. It’s always too… something (there’s always something, LOL!). Maybe, as some of my music snob friends have suggested, I just don’t “get it”, but I don’t care. It usually gets on my nerves. Whatever the case… jazz: ugh.

With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden sax solo at the end of side 1 closer, “Nothing Matters”. It is a gentle, traditional, smooth sax solo designed to evoke a feeling of nostalgia or romance. It feels like a guy on a New York fire escape playing sax and looking up at the moon. I know it sounds corny, but considering the reverb and other effects on it, I believe that was the intended purpose. It works in this context and, as I said, was a nice surprise. It definitely transported me to this place and time.

When the last note faded. I was smiling, and ready check out side 2!

One thing I enjoyed about the release itself was the fact that, rather than “Side 1” and “Side 2”, the two sides of the album are titled (respectively) “Time Goes Around” and “Dragging Us Down”. While “Time Goes Around” felt like a soft, drifting journey, “Dragging Us Down” had a very different flavor to it.

The Opening track on the “Dragging Us Down” side, “You’re Not One To Cry”, fades in like it is about to be more of the same, then kicks it up a notch in terms of guitars, feedback and distortion. The album’s title track, “Illusions Of Control” is a good track, though pretty standard dream-pop stuff, but then “All I Have” again reverses course and pushes the volume and the tempo up a few notches before eventually closing with yet another dreamy Julee Cruise inspired piece, “Linger”… and I mean that is the best way! “Linger” reminds me very much of Angelo Badalamenti‘s music from “Twin Peaks”, and Fawning vocalist Cheyenne Avant‘s ethereal singing simply adds to the similarity.

Throughout the listening experience of this side of the album, there are definite moments where the instrumentation feels like it is an extension of the artist’s feelings. Even without paying much attention to the lyrics, the music itself manages to convey the artist’s struggle with buoyancy. There are external forces working against her and there are internal, emotional struggles going on; and it comes across. Calling this side of the album “Dragging Us Down” was apropos, though the listening experience is anything but a drag or a downer.

All in all, I really liked the way the second side of the album flowed, with the exception of the very long, drawn-out, slowly fading hum at the end of “All I Have”. I was disappointed in this because, up until this point, Fawning had shown themselves to be really original within the framework of the music they were making. They felt like a fresh voice that was offering something new to the well worn subject of dreampop and shoegaze. Then this long, slow, drawn out fade comes along, a single note fading out for nearly a minute, and it was just not necessary. It’s a shoegaze trope that’s been done to death and added nothing to the song or to the listening experience except to make me wave my hand impatiently, wishing it would end so I could hear the next song. Bit of a bummer that, but considering that this one moment is my only complaint, it’s a trivial matter.

Despite this minor annoyance, the album was definitely a solid listen. In fact, rather than “dragging me down”, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to drag out their 2019 debut EP Too Late and give it a spin as well. I rated the album as a solid 4.5/5 and definitely recommend it to you if you like dream pop or shoegaze with strong yet wispy female vocals.

Fawning are Cheyenne Avant of Night School, with Devin Nunes and Eddie Salgado of Whirr.

Do you agree? Drop us a line or use the handy comment form below! You can check out the album for yourself from Bandcamp or Spotify. You can also purchase the digital tracks directly from Graveface Records at Bandcamp! (We do not get any kickbacks from any links on this page).

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