Not six months after the release of their debut EP Louring Skies, London-based psych rock act Pale Fires have released their second EP, Mammoth. While Louring Skies was the laborious result of an effort to record, Mammoth is a much more organic release. With the majority of the recording done straight to tape with minimal overdubs, Pale Fires’ second EP was intended to capture the band’s live sound.
“We wanted to commit to ideas quite quickly with this record, in the sort of way you have to in a live situation,” says guitarist Oli Swan.
“There were times during the recording of our first record where we felt we over scrutinised stuff unnecessarily, so we were quite keen to avoid that happening again. Mammoth took about a week to record, so we worked pretty quickly, and it definitely has more of a live feel than Louring Skies, as that was recorded using more of a multi-tracking approach and over a much longer period of time.”
Tapping into many aspect’s of Pale Fires personality, Mammoth is a warm, colourful and wonderfully textured EP. The sunny persistence of EP opener ‘River’ flows effortlessly into Mammoth‘s title track, a tenacious venture of effects-laden storytelling. The real highlight of Mammoth is found at its core, however. ‘Peace of Mind’ takes Pale Fires to new heights, seeing the band relish in darker, heavier tones as comfortably as they toy with buoyant colour.
“We definitely strive to have a lot of dynamics in our music, although the writing process usually happens pretty naturally,” Swan says. “The guitar sounds are definitely heavier on Mammoth though.”
Reminiscent of a Verve b-side, ‘Peace of Mind’ ebbs and flows from one dynamic of the band’s sound to the next. Pedals and fuzzy distortion lay beside screeching guitar solos and strained vocals, but just as soon as the energy peaks, it slips away again.
“He ain’t got no soul, ooh / He ain’t got no soul” frontman Leo Runswick sings, taking his faraway falsetto right out of Ashcroft’s Bible of Atmospherics while guitars not unlike McCabe’s ripple over him and see the song out in a blissful, trance-like reprise.
A revisit to Pale Fires’ more spacey sensibilities, ‘The Boat That Is Rowing Slow’ retains a solid structure and heady influence. The song’s slow tempo, steady beat and potent bass line provide a subtle but strong foundation for Runswick’s voice to gently ply froward. “I’ve been searching for days now / So long that I’ve forgot it all ” he sings in solemn, distant tones.
Though steeped in psychedelic semblance, Pale Fires remain worlds away from the psych rock revival acts that have saturated the alternative scene in recent years.
“We don’t take the word ‘psychedelic’ very seriously to be honest,” Swans admits.
“It’s definitely become a bit of a trendy term to throw about recently with a lot of bands getting the old kaleidoscopes out and all of that old nostalgic rubbish! l guess the difference with us is that we see it as more of a loose term to describe experimentation and escapism in music. I guess the other key thing is that we want to remain modern and have no desire to be retro or a pastiche.”
With no mould to fit, Pale Fires delve into their many and varied influences to deliver whatever sounds good. Handclaps, saxophones and full minutes of little more than ominous buzzing and gentle guitar riffs make unexpected but surprisingly well placed appearances on Mammoth. Almost unsettlingly void, the apparent emptiness of ‘Howl’ quickly builds to a sustained, frantic collation of fuzzy guitars, hand-bashed percussion and screaming vocals that quickly fall away into a reprise of the song’s unassuming introduction. (‘Howl’, by the way, is not a reference to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s album of the same name, though BRMC are one of the band’s common influences and “We do all really like that record,” says Swan.) ‘Earth Mother’ closes Mammoth in decidedly mixed tones, recapping Mammoth‘s overall soundscape while throwing in some horns and proving the band’s flexibility once more.
While Mammoth is intensely frantic at times, Swan says the album isn’t “totally reflective” of the band’s live sound.
“We definitely can be frantic when we’re at full tilt,” he says.
“But we always try to bring something different to the live thing. Live is definitely where we are most comfortable.”
With plans to return to the more comfortable realm of touring soon, Pale Fires are also already working on new material.
“The response we’ve had from Mammoth has been great and filming the video for ‘Skydance’ with our pal Alex Ferguson was a lot of fun too, but we have never had a shortage of ideas and we have been playing together for a while now, so we want to be as prolific in our output as possible,” says Swan.
“Both Louring Skies and Mammoth are representative of where we were at at the time but we are all keen to move on and keep ourselves excited about the new material we are producing.”
Wanting to maintain the DIY approach they’ve adopted for their last two records, Swan says the band are now all very involved in all aspects of their output.
“We have a close-knit team we work with and I think that works well for us,” he says, adding that 2015 looks to be as big a year for Pale Fires as 2014 was.
“In 2015 we will definitely be releasing more music and playing live regularly. We also have some plans for a limited vinyl only release which will happen at some point next year.”
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