Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.