[30 May 2014]
Lee Bains & the Glory Fires are from the South—Birmingham, Alabama, to be precise—and they want you to know it. If you forget that fact for one second while listening to thier sophomore album Dereconstructed, the next instant will remind you. The mood here is swampy, humid and sticky with sweat, heaps of muddy guitar riffs buzzing like insect swarms. A down home charm and sense of a lackadaisical summer abound, most notably on the laid back “Burnpiles, Swimming Holes” and the sentimental “Mississippi Bottomland”. When Bains sings in his scratchy, frayed style, it’s hard not to imagine him doing so through a smirk.
Musically, it’s a southern-fried brand of garage-punk Bains and crew purvey, not too compelling in itself. More often than not, the basic components of fuzzed-out guitars and pummeling percussion don’t do much to set the songs apart. At times, the distortion can be outright grating in its grittiness. That said, in considering the lyrical content, the record largely lives up to its namesake, as Bains takes southern conventions and motifs and inverts them, or addresses social and historical issues with a critical eye.
Biblical imagery, for example, pops up in just about every song. Bains uses it as a vehicle for commenting on modern times. The title track in particular deals with ideas of tearing down the hateful aspects of ol’ time religion that ring untrue and building back up a belief system that deals with its more admirable qualities. “If I was driving nails for Mammon / I’ll tell you what I’d do / I’d cast my hammer in the old burnpile / And I’d go swimming, too,” Bains sings in “Burnpiles, Swimming Holes”, and later chronicles how civilization and sin spread after “the small, naked earth heard” the Word in “What’s Good and Gone”. The latter of those two songs is the record’s centerpiece, and the first in a trilogy of its most incendiary tunes. It starts with a Fun House-era Stooges guitar tone, before slowing to a crawl, Bains chartering the history of slavery in America. The chorus gets raucous again as the singer mocks the misconception that profiting off others’ subjugation doesn’t still exist. Some backing vocals give it a soul feel, adding some historicity to it.
Successive songs “We Dare Defend Our Rights” and “Flags!” find the Glory Fires leveling their ire at jingoism, nationalism, racism, and oppression. Though the lyrics aren’t always subtle or poetic, the southern context gives the subject matter some extra weight than would come from a band assessing the situation with an outsider’s perspective. Despite this lofty material, the band rollicks with a feral tenacity and never ceases to sound like they’re having fun, jamming live in a juke joint or dive bar. Lead single and album opener “The Company Man”, for one, has a fuck-authority theme, but with its regional storytelling and more generalized indignation, it works in bringing the listener into this world.
On the less polemical side are “The Kudzu and the Concrete” and “The Weeds Downtown”. The former starts with hammering drums before fading down to a hissing groove. The latter is an overt display of conflict over one’s hometown, contrasting pride and disappointment. “I know that Birmingham gets you down / But look what it raised you up to be,” Bains sings, going the optimistic route rather than the alternative. Come the end, the record wraps on two songs that pay tribute to locales with a nostalgic yet celebratory feeling, the sensuous and vividly poetic “Mississippi Bottomland” and “Dirt Track”. The latter gives a false start before resurging with some clatter, but otherwise comes up short in its attempt at being memorable.
What you’re left with in Dereconstructed is an odd dichotomy. On the musical side, it’s your standard, albeit energizing, clamor. Lyrically, however, it’s admirable for the poignant and pointed glimpse it affords into an underrepresented southern point of view.