Fire on Fire – The Orchard

January 01, 1970

(Young God)


Fire on Fire, out of Maine, bring you the
best in backwoods weirdness, buttoned, corseted, poker-back-postured and deeply
disturbed. Daguerreotype medleys of various stringed instruments – guitar,
banjo, acoustic bass and Dobro – meander in precise, pizzicato patterns over
decidedly non-linear narratives. Church loft harmonies swoop and quaver, and an
accordion wheeze sad sea shanties. It’s all paced at a stately, percussive
tempo, the beat as regular as a drunk’s steps when he’s trying to fool the
patrolmen. The volume is tamped down to all-natural levels. Yet don’t be lulled.
These songs are as bug-eyed, Pentecostal, end-of-days mad, even if they are
dipped in sepia ink.


This is Fire on Fire’s first
full-length, following on last year’s five-song EP. If you’ve kept up with New
England experimentalism, their acid-tinged, banjo-plucked Americana might sound suspiciously like
Cerberus Shoal. Three of the five members – Colleen Kinsella, Caleb Mulkerin
and Chris Sutherland – come from that outfit, and another, Micah Blue Smalldone
guested and toured with the band. That leaves just Tom Kovacevic, who comes
from similarly skewed Tarpigh. Kovacevic brings an extravagant palette of Middle
Eastern instruments to the band – oud, nay and tambouritza.  Kinsella handles the distinctive reedy sounds
of harmonium and accordion. Beyond that, there is much switching of instruments
and passing of vocal duties. Everyone seems to take a turn at the banjo.


“Sirocco” kicks the album off with
a lurching, accordion-woozy beat. The melody sounds like something you might
have heard in Sunday school once, though not, as here, placed in the service of
anarchy. One of the boys, Sutherland most likely, leads the bomb-thrower’s
chorus, “And if we tear this kingdom down/let it be with a deserving and joyous
sound.”  “Heavy D,” next, gives you the
first taste of the band’s densely layered textures of stringed instruments, all
interlocking in antsy pizzicato patterns. These sounds skitter over a song’s
surface like long-legged water bugs, the constant undertow of sustained sounds
– vocals, accordion, bowed bass – threatening to pull them under.


To my ears, it sounds like
everyone takes a turn at lead vocals (though there are no credits, so who can
be sure?). That means that the texture and tone of the songs shift from track
to track, and the maddest, most intoxicating ones belong to sole female Colleen
Kinsella. She sings, often entwined in close harmony with her band mates, with
a lulling lushness, a tremor of vibrato hinting at suppressed energies. Her
songs, “Assanine Race,” “Squeeze Box” and, especially “Grin” have a surreal
sensuality. In this last cut, the long notes at the end of each line are drawn
out in tight harmonies that shift in and out of discord, creating dizzying,
disorienting highs. The album ends with its longest track, the eight-minute
plus “Haystack,” which winds through glowing thickets of guitar and droning
mysteries of bowed bass. It, too, is centered around Kinsella’s hazy,
hallucinatory voice, the flickering brightness you follow through dark woods,
realizing only too late that “natural”, “traditional” or “acoustic” are words
that in no way guarantee safety.


Standout Tracks: “Heavy
D”, “Assanine Race”, “The Orchard”, “Grin” JENNIFER KELLY


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