The Golden Hour stands tall as a flawed but remarkably good experiment in mixing up influences from all over the globe. Firewater’s main man Tod A. went to the source of his musical influences to create this collection of catchy melodies that, for the most part, grab your attention instantly. It teeters on the line between punk and world music and thankfully does not sit well in either camp. It does show that pop music is universal.
Firewater is an interesting beast. It is not quite a rock band and not really a solo project. This loose conglomeration of artists is pretty hard to place in a neat little generic box. If you were forced, you might file it under a very broad “World Music” heading. However, this, as with any label, does not tell anything like the whole story. Firewater is the brainchild of former Cop Shoot Cop bassist Tod A. When he “formed” Firewater, he wanted to combine Eastern European melodies with punk rock. In 2005, he was so disillusioned with the state of the political landscape of the United States of America that he packed his laptop, some lunch, and set off to travel through the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and South East Asia. The result of this epic three-year journey is The Golden Hour. If this album is anything to go by, what a journey it must have been.
Tod A.’s weblog from this period is a really entertaining document of a man on the run from his national identity, on a desperate voyage of self-discovery. The record’s press release speaks a great deal about how the journey challenged him creatively and shaped the resulting record. I don’t wish to be mean-spirited, but of course it did. Any action that we undertake as human beings helps us to grow and influences our behavior. So travellng broadens the mind eh? Who’d of thunk it?
Cheap cutting jibes aside, The Golden Hour takes its influence from the musical landscape that Tod A. crossed and is all the richer for it. The album weaves his trademark acerbic storytelling through rich cross-cultural beats and rhythms, resulting in a noteworthy attempt at interdisciplinarity. This sounds too haughty and academic; the album really rocks. It defies, nay challenges, you not to tap your feet or, heaven forbid, dance.
There are strong undertones of the Clash’s early experiments with reggae and a heavy dose of latter day Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Imagine these influences first marinated in a light sprinkling of klezmer, bhangra, drum loops, and samples and served with high-quality production values. This is a very modern world music record. It is hard to conceive that it was recorded in five countries over a two-year period; the quality sparkles.
Real highlights of The Golden Hour are the opening track, “Borneo”, which would easily find a home on a Nick Cave album, or “Paradise”, which effortlessly (and probably unintentionally) echoes Tom Waits. Oh, really it is unfair to pick favorites from this record, but what the hell. I’d say that the first three tracks (“Borneo”, “This is My Life”, and “Some Kind of Kindness”) are difficult to match in any arena. Alright … alright, track two is my favorite, but only with a gun to my head. There are no stinkers on this collection; it is more that sometimes the formula works better than others. I fully expect the less immediate songs to grow on me in time. That has to be a sign of a good pop album.
Tod A. says that he would rather “blow up the laboratory” experimenting with music than reinvent the wheel. This, to me, is a damn fine idea if it produces such a delightful record. The punk prodigal is coming home, picking you up by the scruff of your neck, and showing you that pop music exists outside of Pop (bleeding) Idols.