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Bill Fay Group - Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow

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Artist: Bill Fay Group

Album: Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Label: Durtro/Jnana

Review date: Jun. 1, 2005

Bill Fay, while often described in relation to any number of disparate British singer/songwriters, is in fact far more anomalous and nuanced than any sort of loose affiliation might suggest. His first two albums are incredibly emotionally complex: haunted, harrowing, holy and hopeful. Rather than shying away from these contradictions, Fay made it a note to embrace them. The flamboyantly bitter and cinematic orchestral flourishes on Fay’s self-titled album and the ferocious guitar wail of free jazz heavyweight Ray Russell on Time of the Last Persecution, are both met by Fay’s conversational, modest vocal inflection that is unquestionable in its sheer honesty and vulnerability.

On the self-titled album, Fay’s voice is an intriguing paradox; it never seems to quite match the drama of the music, he comes across as a near-deadpan observer, a commentator on the maudlin musical occurring around him. Even as Fay belts it out on a beautiful, life-affirming track like “Methane River,” he never falls on showy vocal pyrotechnics, he never asserts his persona the way someone like David Ackles or Scott Walker might do in a similar situation. The music follows suit on Time of the Last Persecution, an album noted for its stripped-down and stripped-away raw nerve.

David Tibet’s record label has now assembled and released Fay’s otherwise “lost” third album, Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow, credited to the Bill Fay Group. The album shows a period of mutated, organic growth from Fay’s more familiar work. The lyrics, once dealing with a combination of explicitly political and Christian imagery, have become far more abstractly spiritual without losing any of Fay’s trademarked bleakness. Fay still confronts darker themes, but fitting with the apparent evolution over his albums, the music is progressively more experimental. Most notable is “Planet Earth Daytime” with its cheery refrain of “Planet Earth Daytime / Maybe it’s the last time / Who Cares?”The song is fragmented into a number of smaller sections, at first dealing with the mundane ugliness of day-to-day suffering, then crashing into an ambient and dark British wartime flashback, and finally the mood lifts when Fay makes his signature case for optimism as means for escape and transcendence. The mood of the music changes so significantly with each section, starting off as a more traditional ballad and ending with something that sounds like Fay might’ve picked up in a Manchester club, that one reviewer went so far as to consider it a mini-suite.

There are synthesizers throughout, adding an ominously plastic feeling to the songs. The drums are frothy and soft, textural as opposed to the driving rhythms on Time of the Last Persecution. Here, Fay’s previous tight two-minute song structures are generally more amorphous, and prone to disintegrations and tangential excursions.

While Ray Russell and the awkward orchestra may have been the nuances that made earlier efforts stand out, Fay’s voice takes center stage on Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow. He is consistently multitracked and has an unwieldy, heavy harmonic weight that seems to wrap a layer of gauze around each song. Multitracked vocals by the same singer can convey a number of ideas – Harry Nilsson’s use of a hundred Nilssons on Nilsson Sings Newman is a display of technical dexterity and stubborn self-definition; Judee Sill’s wavering dual voice conveys twin lovers embraced in a kiss. But Fay has other ideas.

On “Strange Stairway,” Fay uses multiple, overlapping versions of himself to build an escalating round, constructing his own stairway. “Spiritual Mansions” similarly uses this multitracking to create a transient architectural physicality. The second half of the album is frequently written from a communal point of view, meriting Fay’s repeated overdubs. “Life” opens with a single Fay inciting mankind, singing “Who are we?” before he is multiplied a number of times by a sympathetic choir. “We are Raised” has a similar logic; Fay seems to be singing as a conduit for a number of people on broad, heart-felt issues of humanity and perseverance. “Hypocrite” addresses a singular person from a crowd’s point of view. It hints of self-criticism, but rather than appearing overtly confessional, Fay takes the voice of the people around him and aims it at himself. “Cosmic Boxer” mythologizes like a Greek chorus.

Yet, despite all of the production choices, Fay’s voice remains the same symbol of understated and humble distress that marks all of his releases. His reliance on using his own voice, rather than bringing in other singers to augment his vocals, also speaks volumes.

Considering Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow is presented here in a somewhat unfinished form, it is an imperfect release. The two discrete sections that could be construed as the “official” album are separated by a series of more rough-hewn demo tracks that, while appreciated, disrupt the overall sense of album-length conceptual consistency that unite his other works. While there are revelations to be found in Fay’s steeped studio effects, Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow abstains from the potency of prior albums, opting for a far more lethargic feeling. Still, Fay’s creative restlessness is on display here and without a doubt, he is one of a kind.

By Matt Wellins

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