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The Transit Rider

Faun Fables

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Album Review

Given their back catalog, Faun Fables have created a singular musical universe, one that is evocative of other times, places, and eras. Transit Rider takes that enigmatic aesthetic to a new extreme — that last word cannot be overstated. Transit Rider is a truly obsessive song cycle and story that Dawn McCarthy developed for theater and performed in 2002, and has been resuscitated. She and Nils Frykdahl (the core of Faun Fables) have developed a traveling work that features four players, films and music from the band, and from other sources. This is an eerie work that draws on ages-old Anglo and Eastern European folk traditions, vanguard rock, the cabaret works of Kurt Weill, and the humor of Erik Satie. "Transit Theme" opens the 13-cut production as McCarthy sings, "I am a transit rider goings and comings at all hours, in the light and in the dark, wait for my train but don't have to park. I am a transit rider, goings and comings they're all the same..." She's accompanied by Frykdahl's guitar and backing vocals, her auto harp, percussion, and bass, and the strange sound of trumpets and violins that float and hover, denoting history, tradition, and their disappearances, as everything continues forward without purpose, without destination. Motion, space, time, dissolution, experience, and the edge of sanity are explored as the ebb and flow of continuance without cessation evolves and returns in a broken circle. The cover songs, "House Carpenter" for instance, is a traditional song that has many versions in which Jesus waits and celebrates the return of his lover Pan! On "In Speed," Frykdahl and McCarthy share vocals for different parts of a truly manic journey through fear that results in isolation and detachment, and sprinting away from anything that touches the transit rider beyond the quick witness of everything going by in a blur, the refrain "Let's speed up, without grace and running" with voices, howling, moaning, shouting, and operatically singing as the track goes off the rail and becomes unhinged with its nearly orchestral instrumentation. The set's longest tune immediately follows; "Taki Pejzaz (Such a Landscape)" was written in 1963 by the Polish songwriter Zygmunt Conieczny, from a poem by Antoni Szmidt and translated by McCarthy and Agnieszka Sowinski. Its haunting folk forms sweep through observations of the landscape as something to be seen, not felt, as the "tangling pine trees...stand mute and useless." The vanguard rock & roll burns itself into folk tradition with crashing tom toms, electric guitars, flutes, and more. McCarthy's nearly unbearable otherworldly alto voice chanting, wailing, and finally moving to contralto, is transformed but unaware. So is the transit rider, a virtual encyclopedia of seeing without knowing. One could argue the concept is overly done by the cycle's nadir, but that would be missing the point. The transit rider, who continually furthers the journey without getting anywhere, grows old without experiences. The music and the voices provide the darker and humorous side of such a life. In the final song, "I'd Like to Be," McCarthy and Frykdahl whimsically engage fantasy: "I'd like to be/like the wind/singing around...like the wind/and touch everything...." But it's flesh and blood moving through these thoughts without resembling them. Simple acoustic six- and twelve-string guitars sing this song, written by Souer Sourire, also from 1963. The transit rider finishes the journey where she started, admiring, escaping into thought, and ultimately seeking no destination but the spirit of motion itself. This one will test Faun Fables fans, but it is utterly wonderful, engaging, disturbing, and funny; it merely needs to be heard on its own terms. This is not so much freak- or acid-folk, as it is modern music, evolved from rock, folk and pop, composed and transformed into something all of its own creation.

Biography

Formed: 1997

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Spokane, WA-raised artist, dancer, and songwriter Dawn "The Faun" McCarthy formed Faun Fables in 1997. After a self-released debut, 1999's Early Song, her powerful voice, penchant for performance art, and British folk-infused rock with lyrics steeped in pagan imagery attracted the attention of Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum). Frykdahl became a frequent collaborator, appearing on 2001's Mother Twilight. The following year, McCarthy premiered her musical The Transit Rider, with the accompanying...
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The Transit Rider, Faun Fables
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