Words by Grey Malkin
East Sussex’s Sairie, featuring Emma Morton on vocals/autoharp, Jon Griffin on vocals/guitar and Andy Thomas on bass, have been steadily releasing a series of beautiful and strange singles and EPs, culminating in 2020’s ethereal and haunting The Cherry Tree. Hearkening back to the early 70’s heyday of acid and psychedelic folk (and inhabiting the same landscape as landmarks such as Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day and Trees‘ The Garden of Jane Delawney), Sairie’s gentle, graceful songs are both pleasingly out of time and otherworldly. With The Cinder Sheet, recorded as a reaction to the greyness of lockdown, the band have evoked their affection of cinema to create a love letter to various songs from film, ranging widely and including picks from the French New Wave, film noirs and spaghetti westerns.
The EP opens with a startling cover of John Barry’s eternal ‘Born Free’, transposed into a piano led and delicate, stately piece of chanson, with gossamer shards of guitar and organ adding colour and shade. One can quite easily imagine this nestled comfortably on one of Francoise Hardy’s early albums, or Julie Covington’s equally cinematic The Beautiful Changes. Next, the traditional ‘Bushes and Briars’, as featured in the celluloid take on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, is suitably mist covered and rustically sparse, with Emma Morton’s vocals spellbindingly beautiful throughout. A ghost of a song, it benefits greatly from Sairie’s stripped back and stark interpretation, with only the rising swell of organ as accompaniment. The spooked melancholy of ‘Pearl’s Song’, from Night of the Hunter is also perfectly pitched, reverberating guitar echoing and prowling through the darkness to devastating and brooding effect. Appropriately, given the soundtrack nature of The Cinder Sheet, Sairie know how to construct atmosphere and emotional power with their careful arrangements, leaving space and room for moments of heartrending intensity as well as ‘hairs rising on the back of your neck’ moments. The first of two songs from Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, ‘Le Tourbillion’, mixes male and female vocals in a gentle merry-go-round, conjuring a quiet but tangible magic, whilst ‘Brouillard’ expertly sprinkles mood, mystery and doomed romanticism in an effective and memorable instrumental piece.
Leaving this earthly realm, ‘Silent Running’ (from the film of the same name) frames Emma Morton’s evocative and reflective vocals within a crystalline cobweb of acoustic guitars and is an EP highlight, a spectral and gorgeous slice of chamber folk. Staying within the parameters of science fiction, ‘One More Kiss Dear’ from Blade Runner follows, its lilting fingerpicked bluesy folk providing a welcome sense of sepia-hued nostalgia that unnerves as much as it enchants, sounding not unlike Julie Felix in a haunted house. The EP closes with ‘Run Man, Run’ from The Big Gundown, a bewitching slice of acid folk with soft musical hints of the western from which it originated. Building on a steady and ever-growing beat, there is a dark, premonitory feel as the inevitable showdown nears, concluding in a truly emotive and powerful finale, a fitting end to an EP that sits laden with an assortment of beauty and character.
With The Cinder Sheet, Sairie have built upon their growing reputation as both a fascinating and eloquent voice in current psych folk circles. With their unique takes on these well known (and also more obscure) songs they have made them utterly their own. A triumph then, and a release that transports you to other worlds and realities, other moods or feelings, and to places sometimes sadder but often more colourful and beautiful than this one; indeed, just what cinema itself can do. Highly recommended.
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