For anyone who has experienced the genre-bending and ranging music of Cerberus Shoal any time in the past decade, this rebirth known as Fire on Fire should come as no surprise. That band seemed to make a habit of reinventing their sound every couple of years or so (or evolving might be a better word). A band that required loyalty and a healthy sense of wanderlust and adventure.
With Fire on Fire they’ve done it again, or some of them anyway, but this time unplugged and firmly entrenched somewhere in a dimension far removed from those musical roots. The trappings now are rough-hewn and varnished implements: guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, upright bass, accordion; plucked, strummed, pressed and purposefully bowed. But 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. This is music for folks who may not be ready to stop being contrary and skeptical, but who have matured to a point where those emotions can be effectively channeled into something useful.
Right out in front of the toe-tapping acid bluegrass and new-generation Americana folk instrumental arrangements the band lays out a rich layer of vocal harmonies that’ll keep your ears glued to your iPod or Media Player or car stereo or to whatever portal-to-your-soul of choice this CD happens to land in. I’ve a bit of a soft-spot for sincere folk music (and what folk music isn’t sincere)? But this ain’t folk any more than Neil Young is a country singer. We’ve gone beyond that and more. The dirge-like apocalyptic lament “Sirocco” with its hypnotic fiddle and unrelenting bass lays a trance-like bed on which something akin to a post-apocalyptic and sickly gleeful chant issues forth: “and if we tear this kingdom down (tear it down!), let it be with a deserving and joyful sound”. I suppose this is close to what A Silver Mt Zion might have sounded like if they’d grown up just south of the border instead of on Mile End Street. And with a keener sense of harmony.
The years of experimentation and experience manifest all over this album, from the plucking bluegrass-tinged title track to the Jesus-freak throwback “Toknight” to Colleen Kinsella’s chilling vocals on the accordion tribute “Squeeze Box” to the all-acoustic post-rock (did I just say acoustic post-rock?) “Haystack”. An enchanting closer to a stunningly engaging album. All I can do at this point is hope like hell these guys somehow wind their way to South Dakota USA so I can see them live. Not likely, but you never know.