Fire On Fire / The Orchard / ReviewFire on Fire, out of Maine, bring you the best in backwoods weirdness,buttoned, corseted, poker-back-postured and deeply disturbed. Daguerreotype medleys of various stringed instruments - guitar, banjo, acoustic bass and Dobro - meander in precise, pizzicato patterns over decidedly non-linear narratives.
Fire on Fire
by JENNIFER KELLY
Fire on Fire, out of Maine, bring you the best in backwoods weirdness,
buttoned, corseted, poker-back-postured and deeply disturbed. Daguerreotype
medleys of various stringed instruments - guitar, banjo, acoustic bass and
Dobro - meander in precise, pizzicato patterns over decidedly non-linear
narratives. Church loft harmonies swoop and quaver, and an accordion wheeze
sad sea shanties. It's all paced at a stately, percussive tempo, the beat as
regular as a drunk's steps when he's trying to fool the patrolmen. The
volume is tamped down to all-natural levels. Yet don't be lulled. These
songs are as bug-eyed, Pentecostal, end-of-days mad, even if they are dipped
in sepia ink.
This is Fire on Fire's first full-length, following on last year's five-song
EP. If you've kept up with New England experimentalism, their acid-tinged,
banjo-plucked Americana might sound suspiciously like Cerberus Shoal. Three
of the five members - Colleen Kinsella, Caleb Mulkerin and Chris Sutherland
- come from that outfit, and another, Micah Blue Smalldone guested and
toured with the band. That leaves just Tom Kovacevic, who comes from
similarly skewed Tarpigh. Kovacevic brings an extravagant palette of Middle
Eastern instruments to the band - oud, nay and tambouritza. Kinsella
handles the distinctive reedy sounds of harmonium and accordion. Beyond
that, there is much switching of instruments and passing of vocal duties.
Everyone seems to take a turn at the banjo.
"Sirocco" kicks the album off with a lurching, accordion-woozy beat. The
melody sounds like something you might have heard in Sunday school once,
though not, as here, placed in the service of anarchy. One of the boys,
Sutherland most likely, leads the bomb-thrower's chorus, "And if we tear
this kingdom down/let it be with a deserving and joyous sound." "Heavy D,"
next, gives you the first taste of the band's densely layered textures of
stringed instruments, all interlocking in antsy pizzicato patterns. These
sounds skitter over a song's surface like long-legged water bugs, the
constant undertow of sustained sounds - vocals, accordion, bowed bass -
threatening to pull them under.
To my ears, it sounds like everyone takes a turn at lead vocals (though
there are no credits, so who can be sure?). That means that the texture and
tone of the songs shift from track to track, and the maddest, most
intoxicating ones belong to sole female Colleen Kinsella. She sings, often
entwined in close harmony with her band mates, with a lulling lushness, a
tremor of vibrato hinting at suppressed energies. Her songs, "Assanine
Race," "Squeeze Box" and, especially "Grin" have a surreal sensuality. In
this last cut, the long notes at the end of each line are drawn out in tight
harmonies that shift in and out of discord, creating dizzying, disorienting
highs. The album ends with its longest track, the eight-minute plus
"Haystack," which winds through glowing thickets of guitar and droning
mysteries of bowed bass. It, too, is centered around Kinsella's hazy,
hallucinatory voice, the flickering brightness you follow through dark
woods, realizing only too late that "natural", "traditional" or "acoustic"
are words that in no way guarantee safety.