Live | Smoke Fairies @ Soup Kitchen, Manchester

“If we started a cult now, would you all join?” It’s funny where a conversation about being stuck in a lift can go, but as Katherine and Jessica sort their tunings for ‘Elevator’, they’re apparently contemplating a new concept for a Smoke Fairies fanclub. 

Katherine’s recalling the time she tried to lure her schoolfriend into becoming ‘Badgers’ but succeeded only in earning detention. Happily, the Smoke Fairies have less of a problem in developing followers these days. A little over four years separated the release of Wild Winter in late 2015 and their return last week with Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, the sort of hiatus which makes you wonder if a band is coming back at all, but a sold-out Soup Kitchen on the opening night of this tour attests to the fact they were never forgotten in the meantime. 

They used the break not to reinvent themselves but to drill down on what makes them so good, honing their essential sound to deliver their best record yet. If there is a new accent to Darkness, it is a heavier guitar sound, electric blues which elevate the bewitching harmonies which soar over them. 

Opening with the album’s closer – the hypnotic cacophony of rhythms that is ‘Super Tremelo’ – they launch into an hour-long no frills set, drawn mostly from the new record but taking time to revisit the likes of ‘Eclispe Them All’ from their 2014 self-titled record and the wonderful ‘Summer Fades’ – taken from 2010’s Through Low Light And Trees. Stripped of its string effects, the song still sounds as majestic as ever: all you really need to make a Smoke Fairies song shimmer are these voices.

The new work sounds more immediate: the punchy ‘Out of the Woods’ and ‘Chocolate Rabbit’, the driving rhythms of ‘Disconnect’ and ‘Don’t You Want To Spiral Out of Control?’ Darkness is the sound of a band who are perfecting their craft. Filing out into the Manchester night, we’re all Badgers now.