Release Date: Apr 28, 2015
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
After a 40-year gap between albums, North London songwriter Bill Fay returned to recording with the glorious Life Is People in 2012. Who Is the Sender? reunites he and producer Joshua Henry. They recorded this set in 13 days with most of the same musicians (including guitarist Ray Russell and drummer Alan Rushton, who have been part of Fay's circle since the 1970s).
After Bill Fay’s two exemplary but overlooked Nova albums, Bill Fay (1970) and Time Of The Last Persecution (1971), the North London singer-songwriter slipped into an obscurity in which he expected to remain. But to his astonishment a 1998 CD reissue was acclaimed, Wilco started covering him, and collections of demos and a previously unreleased 70s set appeared. Even so, the prospect of a new Fay album seemed remote.
Bill Fay took four decades to follow up his eponymous debut and 1971’s Time of the Last Persecution with 2012’s acclaimed Life Is People. In the meantime, his work was championed by the likes of Wilco and Nick Cave. Fay is now in his 70s, and his beautifully hymnal fourth studio album contains sublime, heartfelt ruminations on nature and the world from someone who knows his time is running out.
Of course Life Is People, Bill Fay’s 2012 LP, felt like a spectacle: It was his first proper record in more than 40 years. At the start of the '70s, the Englishman released two imaginative, mystifying folk-rock albums that were critically lauded but commercially stillborn. After low sales prompted his label dismissal, Fay decided not to press the issue.
While the modern, digital era has often been derided for contributing to the apparent death of the music industry, it’s served as a veritable godsend to once obscure performers finding their back catalogues being rediscovered by fans all over the world. With virtually every album ever recorded now accessible by one means or another (read: not always legally), the chance for rediscovery of even the most minor of figures in music history is greater than ever before. Not since the folk boom of the early 1960s have forgotten artists been granted a second act long after their first appeared to be their final.
Many artists feel they channel, rather than consciously create, music. But who is the sender, asks veteran cult singer-songwriter Bill Fay, whose 2012 album Life Is People unexpectedly brought the septuagenarian retiree back into the studio after 41 years. All slow builds and gradual dawnings, this rich follow-up ponders the artistic process with a gentleness that belies great depth.
Bill Fay may not have gotten his due in the ‘70s, when the Englishman released the records Bill Fay and Time of the Last Persecution, but music fans have slowly been coming round to his singular talents. Who is the Sender?, the follow-up to his 2012 comeback LP Life is People, is a fine display of those talents. To call the record a set of orchestral piano ballads with an early 70s Britfolk vibe gives it a framework, but is only half the story.
Bill Fay — Who Is the Sender? (Dead Oceans)This is Bill Fay’s second album since the long hiatus, and much like 2012’s Life Is People, it raises lots of “What if?” type questions. What if Bill Fay’s Decca Nova albums had sold well enough that he never dropped out of sight? What would he have written and performed in the years between then and now? What if his music had been readily available, rather than a crate-digger’s white whale? How many folk and singer-songwriter types would it have influenced? (Even when his work was nearly impossible to get, he managed to become a touchstone for artists from Current 93 to Wilco. ) And if he had been writing and recording solo material through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, would he still sound so rooted in 1960s idealism?Who Is the Sender? is a time capsule of earth-friendly, anti-war, anti-material optimism, tinged with Christian imagery and set against a subdued background of piano, organ, strings and other instruments.
If you’re interested in new pop that does not follow the current media discourse, that is gentle to the point of frailty, that prophesies but never quite disturbs, Bill Fay might be your man. “New” needs a qualification: “Who Is The Sender” is indeed a collection of new songs, but right out of the wrapper, they feel aged almost to the point of expiration. Mr.