NOTE: this was a specially hand made package for the website but is now only available as a full EP download sorry (!) you missed it.
- thanks! Michael Gira
I'm damned pleased to be able to offer here a special YGR website-only 5 song EP by the fantastic group of singers/players called Fire On Fire. (NOTE: this was a specially hand made package for the website but is now only available as a full EP download – sorry (!) you missed it. Sign up to the mailing list for future notice of such items.) They used to be the art-punk-prog-chaos collective Cerberus Shoal, but they ditched their electric instruments, went into hiding for a while, and now play all acoustic-stand up bass, mandolin, banjo, harmonium, accordion, acoustic guitar, dobro etc etc, and they all sing and harmonize on the songs. Live, they do it "old school" and just use two mics placed in front of them on the stage, like a bluegrass band. They all live in the same house up in Maine, across from rusting green oil tanks, apparently. To me they sound like a backwoods, fierce, psychedelic Mamas And The Papas or a crazed and joyously vengeful gospel string band. They're great people and I love their music. It's all acoustic, but it's not in the least folky. More old-timey incantations - American music with excellent words and performed with the honed violence of intent that truly great music requires. They're a total blast live. They just recently played my back porch actually (!!!!) for my wife's birthday and it was one of the best live music experiences I've had in years.
This is just the first installment from these folks. We'll be releasing their debut album soon (none of the songs from this EP included). In the meantime, my highest recommendations for this EP!!!!!
- Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008
1. Hangman (4:29)
2. Liberty Unknown (6:55)
3. My Lady Coffin (7:10)
4. Amnesia (4:32)
5. Three Or More (8:12)
Total Running Time = (31:30)
Fire on Fire BIO by Fire On Fire:
Fire on Fire began without a name in a warm kitchen in Maine. Some of us used to be in Cerberus Shoal. We were three friends whose musical interests grew outward from the punk roots of our youth to a more personal intimate exchange and we began playing songs for each other. Songs on guitars banjos and harmonium with lots of words and voices. The music was living, open and it invited everyone to take part in it. The circle widened to include two more friends who brought rhythm melody and more voices and songs. Fire on Fire is now five friends who play fierce and emotionally sharp words to stab at our selves, our situations, our lives. Our music comes from the heart of each singer and songwriter. Take that statement how you like. Each one of us brings themselves to the common table without self consciousness. Playing for the enjoyment of playing and in turn creating a live performance that is electric and ecstatic foot stomping and howling all the night long. All five friends live together in a big blue house across from green oil tank # 28 in South Portland, Maine.
Colleen Kinsella - vocals, harmonium, guitar, accordion, banjo / Caleb Mulkerin - vocals, guitar, banjo, dobro
Tom Kovacevic - vocals, oud, nay, tamboritza, jembe, tamborine Micah Blue Smaldone - vocals, upright bass, banjo Chriss Sutherland - vocals, guitar, doumbek
Artist: Fire on Fire
Album: Fire on Fire
Label: Young God
Review date: Jan. 7, 2008
Over the years, Young God's Michael Gira has unearthed a succession of really interesting young artists and bands – Calla, Devendra Banhart, Akron/Family and Mi and L’au so far – and helped them, in almost every case, to record the best work of their respective careers. Banhart, for all his media accolades, has not topped Rejoicing in the Hands; Akron/Family will have a tough time outdoing their split with Angels of Light; Calla's landmark remains Televised. As for Mi and L'au, well, who knows if they will ever follow up on their self-titled debut? Living in a log cabin with a fashion model-type significant other is surely a bit distracting.
In any case, when Gira announces that he's found a new band, it's a good idea to take notice. His latest discovery is Fire on Fire.
Fire on Fire doesn't quite start with a blank slate. The band's core was mostly together in Cerberus Shoal, a Maine new folk outfit, whose celebratory, otherworldly shows mixed old-time purity with curiously theatrical performance art. During their nine-album, decade-long run, they toured a good deal with fellow Mainer Micah Blue Smalldone, a guitarist and banjo player with two exquisite acoustic folk solo records. They are all members of a Maine-based outré Americana enclave, fond of twisting the sounds of unamplified instruments like banjo, string bass and found percussion in surreal non-traditional ways. (Death Vessel's Joel Thibodeaux also came out of this scene.)
Fire on Fire's first recording, a self-titled EP, is a tantalizing glimpse of the new band's possibilities, five distinctly different songs united mostly by instrumentation and a weirdly offbeat kind of rural sincerity. The opening track, "Hangman," is the one they're focusing on (hence the mp3 above), yet in some ways the least interesting. It's trebly and trembly, all glistening vibrato on high guitar strings and an insanely communal, octave leaping, all-hands chorus. There's some sort of epiglottal thing going on in the singing, a vibration that sounds like everyone's furiously rubbing their adam's apple on the sustained notes. The words are skewed and full of new hippy dark optimism, all about everybody needing friends, because "even the worst of men, even the hangman has friends." Just listening is like slipping into the clutches of some sort of cult; start to sing along and you're lost.
And yet, "Hangman" is not the best of these five songs. For that honor, I'd vote for the slow, liquidly beautiful "Liberty Unknown." It's based in slow 12/8, a three-based guitar motif twinkling in the background, as singer Colleen Kinsella stretches out the long pure notes of the melody. There's a wild thread of piping that runs through the song, not quite a flute, maybe a recorder that gives it an especially untamed heft. It might even be a political song, touching obliquely on the need for consciousness and protest in lyrics like "We fought with our lungs, we fought with our lungs," intoned over and over again in a dream-like background. It's a gorgeous song and not really alt.country or alt.folk at all.
"My Lady Coffin" and "Amnesia" stick closer to the pre-industrial America formula, the first plucked out on guitar and eased by strings, the second rollicking along on accordion blurts and junk percussion. Yet even when the music passes, almost, for Folkways traditional, the words are skewed like funhouse mirrors. "My Lady Coffin" is full of natural images, sung in wavery, antique harmonies, and yet so far warped from any expected folk song sentiment as to be almost disconcerting. Consider the stanza about aging, family and the circle of life: "The kids are crazy/They're always cryin'/The parents continue multiplying/Digging dirt and laying their seed/Oh it's so much fun to breed." Not exactly shoring up our nation's traditional values, are they?
The EP closes with its longest cut, the eerily laid-back "Three or More." The song takes its time getting going, banjo, guitar and slide bending their notes into a serene interlocked pattern, bobbing along. It's almost a minute before the vocals come in, two before the song resolves into any sort of chorus. Yet far from growing tedious, the groove becomes reassuring and comfortable. You can feel the band members relax into one another's playing, feeling it, in no rush to bring things to climax. And maybe this – more than their non-electrified instruments, their country harmonies, their birds and trees imagery – is what this band has in common with traditional folk. They have all the time in the world to bring this song off. Why hurry?
By Jennifer Kelly
Dream Magazine Issue #8
By George Parsons
Fire on Fire Fire on Fire (Young God) This five song EP is only available at live gigs, or though the Young God Records website, but it’s well worth seeking out. Some of these folks were in Cerberus Shoal (we interviewed them in issue #3), they lost their electric instruments and got back to a more organic sort of acoustic based sound, tapping into a more timeless place while still maintaining their surreality and inventiveness, but also making the most profoundly beautiful and accessible music of their careers. Subtly apocalyptic folkish art rock with a soaring humanist visionary gospel soul, and five able vocalists one of whom is Colleen Kinsella who has a gorgeously expressive and authoritative voice and also did the screen printed cover art. Old-timey and as current and relevant as this moment. Devendra Banhart, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, Kurt Weill, The Band, and Neil Young are all touchstones, but this highly developed sound and spirit is all their own and quite irresistible.
Brainwashed.com Sunday, 16 December 2007
Fire on Fire, "Handmade EP"
Written by Simon Marshall-Jones
This Portland, Maine based group are members of art-punk-prog-chaos collective Cerberus Shoal along with North East Indie labelmate Micah Blue Smaldone reinvented as a kind of mutant 'bluegrass/folky' quintet using traditional instruments (plus a few unusual ones) such as upright bass, banjo, piano, harmonium, and accordion in addition to harmonized vocals.
This is anything but traditional bluegrass or folk, however, as there's a distinctly uneasy edge and fractured sense of reality bordering on dark psychedelia that removes it a million miles from the mainstream forms of those genres, while also acknowledging the debt owed to those uniquely American styles of music.
This is a Web site/live gig only release and comes in beautiful handmade packaging: an original piece of artwork by band member Colleen Kinsella and printed on good quality card stock while the lyrics and credits are printed on vellum. According to the Young God Web site Michael Gira—who also shared production credits with FoF's Caleb Mulkerin—has "an adamant belief in the music" and, to be blunt, I couldn't agree with him more.
This is startlingly haunting, atmospheric, shimmering, and scintillating music, channeling directly into the true heart of life and America, in much the same way as Britain's dark folk current does, scratching beneath the surface glitz and glamor to the hidden and unvarnished every day. Mulkerin's tremulous voice, reminding me of Neil Young without the nasally whine, is a perfect foil for the themes of liberty betrayed, life, death, the curse of old age, and amnesia. Running through each of the five songs is a frisson of edgy tension between the deliciously dark and poetic lyrics—often sung in male/female harmonization—that contrast sharply with the musical backdrop of picked banjos, guitar, piano, and simple percussion. I had shivers running up and down my spine, such was the effect of these offbeat tales of modern life.
Love, loss, friendship, pain, and just the plain old job of getting on with living: it's all there in buckets and delivered with an uncomplicated passion and, moreover, a simplicity that's refreshing. This is, quite simply, a breathtakingly beautiful set of songs.
Best EP (best of list 07)
Fire on Fire s/t (Young God)
An absolutely stunning five song offering from this new supergroup featuring Caleb Mulkerin, Colleen Kinsella (these two also form Big Blood, another one of the year's finds), Chriss Sutherland, & Tom Kovacevic from Cerberus Shoal plus their ultra-talented housemate, Micah Blue Smaldone. This is down-home folk goodness at its best. All these guys & gals live together in the Blue House up in Portland, Maine and it shows. The varying styles and ideas fit together perfectly and make up a release so damn good that I had to invent a category specifically for it. This limited release is only available from the band or directly from Young God, so get moving or you're going to miss out on an absolute gem.
Fire On Fire / 5 Song EP
(no author listed)
Michael Gira's Young God label is home to several acts that plow their furrows in the rich fields of Americana, most notably his own Angels Of Light and Akron/Family. To This roll call can be added Fire On Fire. The act emerged out of art-punk prog act Cerberus Shoal. However, in time honored fashion, they holed up in a house in Maine with only acoustic instruments and reinvented themselves as avatars of the Great Universal American Music. Mandolins twinkle on "My Lady Coffin" as the group chorus "The sun's gone out, the sky is falling / The moon is sinking, and the men are crawling" at a pace that suggests a twilight trudge back from a hard day's toil in the fields. On "Hangman", the banjos and dobros duel as a man and a woman duet that "even the hangman has friends". The subjects may be bitter, but the songs are joyous and warm. The EP sets high expectations for this spring's album.
Feb 14 08
Fire on Fire, 5 Song EP (Young God)
When Cerberus Shoal ditched their electric instruments, went into hiding, and emerged with acoustic guitars and banjos and stand-up basses, they eventually became known as Fire on Fire. And with their debut EP—released exclusively on the Young God Records website or at shows—they announce themselves with authority. The five lively tracks are spacious and energetic. They course with life, all full of the clang and warble of old school Americana, and a crazed collective joy as the whole band harmonizes nearly all the way through the disc. Along with the traditional instruments, you can hear oud and doumbek and tamboritza and dobro and the kitchen sink somewhere in there, making their sound too off-kilter to be called something as reductive as “folk” or “roots”. The band can foot-stomp through the insistent pining of “Hangman” or “Amnesia”, or they can pull back into a beautiful, but still raspy, wilt on “Liberty Unknown”. The five songs here—clocking in at over 30 minutes—show Fire on Fire have a lot of sides, but most important is the sense that they’re not playing to anyone on 5 Song EP. The band isn’t performing. Here, the band and the audience seem to be one in the same. And the audience never sounded so good.