Fire On Fire / The Orchard / ReviewThe promise of Fire on Fire's debut EP on Young God is easily met by their dream-like, somnambulistic follow-up. The vocal performances bare a tribal and spontaneous quality that alters the nature of the music being played and ultimately forms the heart of the record...
Fire on Fire, "The Orchard"
Written by Lucas Schleicher
Sunday, 18 January 2009
The promise of Fire on Fire's debut EP on Young God is easily met by their
dream-like, somnambulistic follow-up. Less extravagant and aggressive than
their previous effort, this Portland Maine-based quintet showcases their
softer side with rich and mellow songwriting cut through by pining voices
and twang-scored harmonies.
When I heard Fire on Fire's "Amnesia" (from their EP), I was won over by the
psychedelic madness that boiled beneath the song's tuneful hook and bizarre
lyrics. The band manifested a crazed energy within the confines of their
nuanced songwriting and constantly teetered on the brink of chaos. The
Orchard sees the band relaxing and focusing their energy on softer tunes and
strengthening their songwriting core. With nothing but acoustic instruments
at their disposal, the group recalls the spirit of America's early musical
tradition by emphasizing strong lyrical topics and melody-heavy songs.
Drunken and haphazard frills decorate the record and keep many of the songs
from sinking into pure genre worship. This is not slick, romantic
Appalachia; Fire on Fire are rugged and lively musicians who emphasize
lurching movements and uneven steps.
The album begins with "Sirocco," perhaps the most rock-like song of the 12
featured on the album. The name comes from the high velocity winds that blow
out of the Sahara and pelt France, Italy, and Greece across the
Mediterranean. This hurricane-strength wind can disable machinery and invade
homes as it blows north and dissipates. "Sirocco" takes its namesake
seriously and functions as the album's vital genesis; it is far and away the
most energetic song on the album and it propels the record forward with a
haphazard bang. Reveling in fragility and decay, the band boldly announce
their purpose: "If we tear this kingdom down / Tear it down / Let it be with
a deserving and joyous sound." To this end, Fire on Fire employ rambling
banjos, scruffy yelps, soothing harmonies, and the familiar sounds of the
strummed guitar. They add quirky lyrics, unexpected twists, and exotic
nuances to facilitate a hallucinatory sound. Some songs play out in
prismatic shifts with uneasy contrasts and others resemble traditional
American folk songs as imagined by The Byrds, but at no point does the group
allow their songs to fall into an easily definable space. One of the album's
highlights, "Toknight," is an almost-believable country/pop hybrid from the
late '60s or early '70s. The song's heavy down-beat, plodding rhythm, huge
chorus, and subject matter are all drawn from country and rock roots, but I
doubt anyone would confuse Fire on Fire with Gram Parsons. Gypsy music seems an equal part of the band's formula, though that may only be an effect of
the accordion's prominent position in many of the songs. The band's approach
to performance is grounded in a familiar and well-established tradition, but
their vision of American music isn't purely historical nor is it purely
In fact, an other-worldly quality permeates The Orchard from top to bottom.
Collenen Kinsella's voice is a particularly sharp and effective part of the
band's sound; her unusual abilities add an absolutely invaluable dimension
to the band's timbre and provides some of the stranger songs their strangest
edges. It is the use of unusual vocal harmonies and textures that gives many
of these songs their unusual character. The vocal performances bare a tribal
and spontaneous quality that alters the nature of the music being played and
ultimately forms the heart of the record. In any case, Fire on Fire's music
is an inventive take on old music; they've adhered to a simple premise and
thankfully managed to strike new ground without venturing too far into
"freak folk" territory. This is undeniably American music, but with Fire on
Fire's distinct and eccentric signature.