Fire on Fire: The Orchard

The Orchard is the sound of a group full of life, playing folk music full of an earthen stomp and a cautious hope.

Fire on Fire

The Orchard

Label: Young God
US Release Date: 2008-12-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

There's plenty of new folk floating around these days. Plenty of it is quite good, but most of it tends to mine folk for its melancholy and eccentricity. Some find joy in the transience of the sound, in not being tied down, but few artists use folk to meld any permanence of place with feelings outside of loss and loneliness.

That is where Fire on Fire comes in. The collective comes from Portland, Maine and has taken on many different faces over the years. They used to be the electric-noise experimenters Cerberus Shoal, and then they became the more organic Big Blood before morphing into Fire on Fire. After releasing a great self-titled EP on Young God Records, the band has released its first full-length, The Orchard, quickly proving themselves to be a group deserving of more attention, both in folk circles and beyond.

The Orchard starts off with "Sirocco" and immediately announces the group's intentions. Like the rest of the album, the song populates itself with all acoustic instruments. Stand-up bass, guitar, mandolin, banjo, accordion, etc., make a sturdy shuffling noise behind the full-throated vocals. The whole group comes in to sing the chorus, belting out what seems like a mantra for Fire on Fire: "If we tear this kingdom down / Let it be with a deserving and joyous sound." The sentiment implies an anger, surely, or at least a discomfort with things as they are, but the members of Fire on Fire aren't dragged down to frustration by the things they disagree with. Instead they galvanize and hold onto their joy, and use it as a weapon.

The feeling of living life your way, of making the world better by making the space around you great, is a feeling running through The Orchard. And while, in print, it feels overly sentimental and naive, it never sounds that way on this record. It is not all flowers in your hair and group hugs or self-righteous soapbox shouting. "Asinine Race" wonders over the connection between gender roles and identity but avoids being high-minded by filtering that idea through the universal, and admittedly whiny, feeling our families drive us crazy. "Hartford Blues" is tense with frustration, well known in places like New England, as the oncoming winter begins to make the air bitter, but a sense of place also exists, of not wanting to leave, of being a part of a community that fights against the singer's complaints. A bittersweet song, it has a dedication to it that makes road songs seem, if for a moment, just a little too easy, a little less romantic.

And that is what makes the overarching contentment of The Orchard work. It never ignores other emotions. The group sounds most unmoored on the strangely named "Heavy D." "Some like the distance / Some like the nothing," they sing on the chorus. A space around these lines makes them sound confused, disconnected. Fire on Fire seem ready to accept that kind of fatalism, but they can't quite figure it out, but a yearning in its sound makes it feel like they're always reaching out for what they don't understand rather than turning away from it.

If one thing remains clear on The Orchard, it is that Fire on Fire is not a band but a collective. These players sound like they're playing to each other as much as to us. They take turns singing the leads. They all wrote songs for the album, and because of that, the feel of the album never quite settles. Even as the sound feels similar all the way through, the way they trade instruments and singing duties keeps the listener on his or her toes. And their brand of folk music never becomes fey or precious. The Orchard is the sound of a group full of life, playing music full of an earthen stomp and a cautious hope. If it sounds melancholy in spots, it is because their joy is an honest one, a murkily human one. And if it sounds eccentric, it is because it is unique. These players have made a lot of sounds over the years. But with The Orchard, they might have found the sound they were supposed to be making all along.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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