Music

Backyard Tire Fire: The Places We Lived

They've evolved from Tom Petty-aping roots rockers into the best pop band the Midwest has to offer. Now is as good a time as any to jump onto the Backyard Tire Fire bandwagon.


Backyard Tire Fire

The Places We Lived

Label: Hyena
US Release Date: 2008-08-26
UK Release Date: Unavailable
Amazon
iTunes

When Backyard Tire Fire released Vagabonds & Hooligans last year, it was as unlikely an album of the year contender as you could expect: it was all Petty-affected backwoods pop-rock, all buoyed by singer Ed Anderson’s fantastic lyrics and his golden ear for a solid melody. Tracks like “The Wrong Hand” and (appropriately enough) “Tom Petty” were driving without being forceful, tasteful homages that never once buckled under their influences. It was one of those rare left-field zingers that catches you by surprise both by its immediacy and its ultimate staying power. Straight-up rock songs had no right to be that good.

Yet there is a problem inherent with Backyard Tire Fire: their powerful tunes just aren’t translating much beyond their dedicated Midwest fan base. Shortly following the release of Vagabonds & Hooligans, the guys put up the Sick of Debt EP on their MySpace as a free download: six new, raw, fantastic songs that served as a nice appetizer between releases. What it couldn’t have foreshadowed, though, was the remarkable left turn that Anderson and Co. have taken with The Places We Lived. Yes, they still rock, but six-string open-field wailing is no longer the BTF’s primary objective. Instead, Anderson has decided to reinvent himself as the premiere Pop Balladeer of America’s Heartland, and what’s shocking is just how well he wears that badge.

Opening with a careening ode to wild youth reflected, “The Places We Lived” serves as not only a fantastic pacesetter, but it also doubles over as a thematic signpost that colors the rest of the disc quite vividly. Anderson is now obsessed with the notion of what a “home” is, and who belongs in it. The unnamed characters that are the focus of “Welcome to the Factory” work out their menial and meaningless jobs because “there’s no place left to go”, as if relegating themselves to a life of labor simply because there are no other options, their jobs serving as their new home, all over a wry rock riff that Don Was would’ve killed for. The sunshine-licked melodies that dot the album highlight “Shoulda Shut It” simply serve as a joyous backdrop for the narrator’s sudden lack of faith in every aspect of the human condition (“Hey forgiveness / I’m in the business of regret”, the song opens, before segueing into the line “Hey religion / I could use a reason to believe / Ten years in a coma / And I’m still trying to relieve”).

Anderson’s characters are always fundamentally flawed in some way or another, but they greet their vices with indifference, knowing that there will always be a tomorrow, always another day to start over again. The lonely girl of “Time With You” cannot stop thinking of her lover, and even as he leaves her hometown, she fantasizes and obsesses over spending time with him in a way that only true lovers can, a plight of unrequited feelings that goes unanswered in the growing distance between them. We can all sympathize because we have all been in that scenario, and even if we have never pissed off farmers by driving through cornfields like the characters of the title track do, we can still relate to their bewilderment upon going into an old house in which they lived and not recognizing any aspect of it, as if their childhoods had been erased without their permission.

Needless to say, there are heavy issues being presented throughout The Places We Lived, ranging from heartbroken loneliness to wanting to leave one’s hometown just because they’re sick of where they live (as the character of “Everybody’s Down” sorely wants to do). Though these problems are all presented via BTF’s newfound pop epiphanies (they love that new synth they bought), Anderson’s ambitions still manage to get the hold of him, particularly bringing down the album’s latter half during half-baked tracks like “One Wrong Turn” and “Legal Crime”. Yet when he reaches the string-filled closer on “Home Again”, it feels that Anderson has found his thematic focus again, and he delivers a beautiful coda to a surprisingly potent disc.

For long-standing fans of the band, The Places We Lived could easily come off as being too poppy, less obvious, and just too damn joyous than the BTF of the past (though even those teeth-gnashers will still eat up the fiery, blazing rock number “How in the Hell Did You Get Back Here?”), but for everyone else, it’s the perfect primer for a group that truly is one of rock’s best kept secrets. Though the group keeps evolving, their passion remains the same, and perhaps that’s why The Places We Lived actually rivals Vagabonds & Hooligans as their best album. Neither disc is without its own set of flaws, but the band doesn’t seem to care much: they’re going to keep on rolling like they’re the best band in America. Who knows -- at the rate they’re going, they might as well be.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


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.