The more I listen to Fire On Fire, the more they make me think of A Silver Mt Zion.
It's unlikely that I'll ever buy another Mt Zion record, or even listen to much of the back catalogue, something I used to make real time for, like a high maintenance lover - but I'd definitely go and see them again if I found myself nearby (it'd be my 6th time, not bad for a Cornishman).
I imagine at
this point I should explain that Fire On Fire really sound nothing like
A Silver Mt Zion, but they sure look like them: Mt Zion Vs
Fire On Fire.
They're like a cross between a crusty/folk festival band that live in a squat in Barcelona (and tell you about it, a lot), some of the more folksy parts of Tom Waits' Mule Variations and boil in the bag gypsy music. They hit their high points on the chorus of 'Toknight' where they sing about chess and Jesus Christ who is 'everyone's favourite scapegoat'. The whole of the second song 'Heavy D' is good too, it gets me singing and swaying. It's the only song where I start to believe they actually like folk music, rather than only seeing it as a way of exploring themselves and their ideas. On 'Tsunami' they drop the group vocals which is great, the solo male singing is when the group are at their best, I just get scared that the clown-choir is lurking just around the corner.
The write up on their label page says that they used to be in "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". This leads us to the O Joanna Newsom Where Art Thou folk of 'Squeezebox'. And to milk that old scapegoat for expression: Jesus, this song is grating on me... Colleen Kinsella's voice is the most noxious concoction of theatricality, screech and kooky inflection I have heard in a long time. Same goes for the song 'Assanine Race', which sounds like a track from the other recent release on the label Young God, Larkin Grimm's album Parplar. It's possible that Kinsella prophesies (self-fulfilling?) accusations of insincerity in the lyrics (if I'm hearing them right):
"Keeping up my accent, helps to make this all,
Secret to the bone, really keeping this from falling,
Cause I care too hard,
For linking it together"
Which sounds like someone rationalising their involvement in a political organisation. Maybe this is the fabled "narrator", and not Kinsella, but how about trying to sing well either way? Maybe whatever it is needs to fall apart.
'Flight Song' which follows, starts beautifully and rid me of the screech-tension because whatever stringed instrument they're playing reminded me of hearing this incredibly melancholy performance by a Tibetan lute player I met in New Zealand. That was until the group harmonies rushed in and squealed "look at us we can harmonise like dead people used to" (disclaimer: these aren't the lyrics).
I have started to feel
like I am reviewing a child's nativity play: they're nightmarishly
skilled, more than I will ever be, but it just makes me shifty, I want
to leave by the side door and listen to The Levellers. I can honestly
tell you that is a rare impulse in my world.
So 'Flight Song' draws its curtains but what did that guy mumble at the very end about "awareness"? Folk/bluegrass and wordy philosophy sugared with naturalistic imagery is no good, no good at all. It doesn't deliver the philosophy and it doesn't deliver the folk. Perhaps they're less the porch-dwelling Silver Mt Zion (because they at least get their ethos across clearly, whatever you think of it) and more the folk Tool... but maybe that's too hideous and unfair. I am going to finish this up by quoting the words of Bob Moore, writing for musicgeek.org, who clearly likes this record a lot, enough to get posted in full on the label page. If what he says makes sense to you (it sounds like a bad wank to me), then maybe youze looking for some Fire On Fire:
"...bubbling under the surface and woven in the words, that genesis of youth and anger and cynicism and sense of irony and sarcasm blend with newfound purpose like dandelion wine, and into something that wets the palette but leaves behind an aftertaste of bittersweet satisfaction..."