Fire on Fire | The OrchardFire on Fire takes the listener on a ride through the sheer joys and woes of the human experience
On a national level, the music scene up in Maine seems to be under the radar; I, for one, am not up on the happenings in the nation’s far Northeast corner. Enter South Portland, Maine, a town of just over 20,000 residents that rests along the rustic and rugged shoreline of one of America’s most scenic states. From this residential community hails the band Fire on Fire, whose dizzying array of freak folk and Americana has been captured quite beautifully on their first full-length, The Orchard.
The record is cohesive enough that it’s stamped with a deliberate thematic quality, but its density and rich stylistic qualities enables the album to naturally flow and change direction, showcasing a depth and precociousness that is not present in many of Fire on Fire’s contemporaries. Perhaps it’s because, according to the band’s bio on the Young God website, “All five friends live together in a big blue house across from green oil tank # 28 in South Portland, Maine,” that they are able to reign in a delicate musical synergy and translate that on record to share with the world… or at least those lucky enough to hear it.
From the opening, ringing notes of “Sirocco” (“And if we tear this kingdom down / Let it be with a deserving and joyous sound”), through the easy country-folk of “Toknight”, to the eerily soothing final tones of album closer “Haystack” (with the sound of a baby’s pleasant, gurgling fuss scattered throughout), Fire on Fire takes the listener on a ride through the sheer joys and woes of the human experience, offering unrestrained, open commentary on life and all its intricacies. Without getting too freaky as to alienate fans of ye olde folk music, The Orchard is the kind of record that I’m enjoying more and more with every listen. Very impressive for a band whose only previous effort was a five-song EP with a minimal pressing of 1,000 copies—they sound much more centered and seasoned than a group with such a short resume (though they did rise from the ashes of the new folk band, Cerberus Shoal).
Vocal duties are shared by all members, but Colleen Kinsella’s (who also created the album art) vigorous yowl of a voice serves to carry the songs to their heights, harmonizing very well with the more dapper, restrained voices of the male vocal contributors, who provide a center to the record’s fireside frenzy. Gypsy music, folk, Americana, and dark psychedelia swirl and coalesce, the songs built from a wide selection of influences taken from contemporary music and its ancestors, albeit with a slightly twisted, distinctive slant that makes these songs very much their own. Devendra Banhart’s 21st century oddities greets the 1960s earnestness of Fairport Convention and borrows from the adopted Eastern influences of Zach Condon's Beirut in a brightly hued—yet nuanced and deeply shadowed—conglomeration of banjo, harmonium, upright bass, mandolin, acoustic guitar, dobro, tambourine, oud (kinda like a lute), nay (an ancient, end-blown flute), tamboritza (think Croatian mandolin), jembe (hand drum), and doumbek (goblet-shaped hand drum).