Fire On Fire - The OrchardSteers the band square into the new roots movement with the confidence of a more established folk collective.
Surely the enthusiastic backing of Michael Gira and the similar sounds of alt-folk-gospel label
mates Akron/Family helped to ease them into the fold, as the group not long
ago was playing progressive art-rock under the name Cerberus Shoal (and were
prolific performers to that end).
We’re seeing this a lot these days: more and more bands putting their
post-rock heritage on the shelf to take part in the new folk renaissance
(take, for instance, Derek Fudesco's move from art-punk Pretty Girls Make
Graves to folky alt-rockers the Cave Singers). With a focus on traditional,
old-timey sounds and time-honored instruments, Fire On Fire is next in line,
but in this case The Orchard bridges the gap through faithfulness to their
unpredictable, chaos-oriented past work.
Recorded in the group’s home (all five members live together in a house in
Portland, Maine), The Orchard is a grove of traditional folk (namely string)
instruments and the many interpretative ways to play them -- and around
them. Bluegrass favorites like the mandolin and banjo saddle up to eastern
folk fixtures like the oud and tamburitza, and vocalist Colleen Kinsella’s
sharp, dissonant harmonies make for interesting -- if not disturbing --
arrangements. Think Grizzly Bear meets the Carter Family.
“Fight Song” is easy and joyful, a choir-addled piece highlighting Tom
Kovacevic’s mellow oud playing and Kinsella’s smooth harmonium. Long playing
“Haystack” is a good example of the band’s unself-conscious lyricism,
scattered with breathy oohs and aahs, “My mind is dirtless/ My dreams are
fruitless/ My bed is loveless,” sings Kinsella of loneliness.
You have to be a little impressed that the band has so easily switched gears
from a diet of mostly experimental, amped sounds to a down-home, acoustic
style of playing. All five members provide vocals and play a range of
instruments, recording “old school” style (like a bluegrass band) with just
two mics. While Michael Gira is quick to say that it’s “not in the least
folky,” it’s hard not to imagine Grandpa whittling a pipe on a front porch
in Appalachia somewhere on “Assanine Race,” or David Grisman tinkering on
the mandolin on “Toknight.” The elements of folk music are clearly the
building blocks of the record, but the wildly creative moments of The
Orchard, like fire itself, allows the group room to play.
- December 8, 2008