A.S. Fanning – ‘Mushroom Cloud’
“No cure for the disease of disappearing,” A.S. Fanning sings in ‘Colony Collapse’. Despite the line being dredged from greater depths of dowerness than the patter on Morrissey’s stag-do, it flows from the album with gorgeous sweetness and charming drama as though its bad news being delivered by a magic doctor in a Pixar movie.
The Irish musician’s latest album, Mushroom Cloud takes us right back to the wild uncertainty of the pandemic – the dark days when the use of the word unprecedented reached justly unprecedented new heights – and he deals with the doom-laden absurdity of that period with a comic directness and artistry that has only really been matched by Tim Key.
Why has the pandemic been steadfastly avoided by most culture? Well, it seems that perhaps it was simply too vast for people to chronicle concisely in art. This is perhaps why Fanning has bolstered his sound to a new robust level of orchestration that allows him to capture the drama of the period. There is a wider scope to the instrumentation here than we are used to from Fanning. His previous best efforts like the humble epic ‘All Time’ have been decidedly stripped-back; this time out he takes more of a ‘more is more’ appraoch.
However, that does not mean that Fanning’s songwriting gets lost within the brooding backgrounds, like Leonard Cohen’s poetry amid Phil Spector’s production, it simply scrubs up for the ball. Moreover, given the strange mix of madness and magic, apocalyptic-dread and escapist delirium that we’re dealing with, the wider range of the music allows for fittingly dissonant flourishes to be thrown in without derailing the melodic throughlines that make Fanning eternally listenable.
Like H. Hawkline’s masterpiece earlier in the year, he brings the same sense of quirkiness that pervades his literary lyrics to the instrumentation itself, making the album somewhat novelistic in its approach, but it proves a riveting page-turner. As is evidenced by Fanning’s own wry take on the record: “I wrote Mushroom Cloud at the beginning of the pandemic, when society had shut down and we had no real knowledge of when, or if, it would start again. As with most people at the time, I became quite isolated and my world grew very small…” he says.
Adding: “I haven’t really looked for any silver linings in this myself. I suppose the best I can do is to see it as a document of a low point. A sort of scorched earth that hopefully leads to a new beginning. I found myself laughing at some of the lyrics I had written, which I think is quite a healthy thing, to be able to take a step back from your darker thoughts and see the absurdity in them.”
That same sense of distance subverting tragedy with comic exhilaration is the triumph of the songs themselves. These strangely baroque folk tracks paint a brilliant image of the apocalypse pertaining simply to a man growing lonely in his flat, rendering ‘overproduced’ as a queer compliment that works brilliantly as it sloshes lashings of individuality to these very honest songs of heightened despair and self-pity. It is a melodrama that proves endlessly relatable as we look back at the time when the world seemed to be ending with a TV-backlit whimper where the only solace came from a stream of Deliveroos.
Fanning might have struggled to find a silver lining in that trying time, but now that the permacrisis has extended, his comical musings, luscious melodies, and moments of perfect poetry help to add a lull of interest to the load if not lighten it. Mushroom Cloud is a superb effort from a songwriter following his muse to unfamiliar territory and reaping rewards. It’s a 21st Century Franz Kafka turns indie album, if only he was a little bit funnier and had a soothing baritone.