Album Review: THE FIRES OF – The Noise Around The Mean
THE FIRES OF… that’s it… the rest of their name is really up to your imagination. In fact, the band has always claimed they were fond of the incompleteness of it.
It could just as well be THE FIRES OF automobiles, or THE FIRES OF bananas, THE FIRES OF Toronto (maybe), but that really might be the cleverness of the name: it has a different interpretation or word association for each person who hears them.
What they actually sound like is an entirely different story.
While the Toronto pop-rock outfit (now a five-piece) might ask you “[if you're] ready for some adult contemporary soft rock” (that’s a direct quote from their opening stage banter from the August 2011 Silver Dollar iM showcase btw…), and they profess an undying love for My Morning Jacket and Paul McCartney & Wings, the best contemporary comparison I can make musically and vocally about THE FIRES OF is if Sarah McLachlan and David Usher decided to form a mega-hook-filled in-your-face multi-part harmony rock group.
That “mega” adjective originally said “super” but I decided it just wasn’t enough to explain the grandiosity at work here.
Following up their joy-filled 2010 self-titled LP, the five-track Chris Cobain-produced The Noise Around The Mean EP delves a little deeper emotionally, forming a sort of mini concept album surrounding the themes of dreams and sleep…. or possibly the lack thereof.
Opening track “Memories In Flight” starts things off with a drum-guitar pairing that sounds like it’s being projected from the inside of a metal cylinder – perhaps itself like a foggy memory.
But when Graeme Donnelly’s crisply-mastered vocals start to recount: “I recall the firelight, taking walks into the night, holding tight onto your hand, you let me fall and helped me stand; you told me stories I believed them all – you gave me strength you gave me wherewithal” – escalating with harmonies in the later half of that opening as he is joined by Lisa Di Diodato – THE FIRES OF drop the gauntlet and things quickly get distortion-heavy in the best possible way.
The walking bass line on “I Can’t Sleep” is a really fun riff that helps offset Di Diodato’s smooth jazz-styled vocal approach and the prominent acoustic guitar. When paired with the subtle wah’d synth in the chorus, and the violins in the bridge, this all ends up creating this slower arching narrative that one can’t help but tap your toe to. [Editor's note: yes grammar nerds that's a dangling preposition... this song does that to me]
“One Decent Thing” is a sure single – slightly more reminiscent of their previous material – with super upbeat, punchy mid-heavy bass that cuts through the backline. Bassist/Guitarist Chris Hayward’s pre-chorus beltings of “remind me” adds an epic weight to the track that really can’t be understated as he blatantly jumps up an octave vocally just to give it that extra punch into the chorus – surely so everyone in the crowd at shows can start to sing along.
There’s a little Celtic/Maritime influence on the guitar/violin intro of “Sleeping In”, which dials back to let the glockenspiel accentuate Di Diodato’s melody in the verses, and returns for the choruses to make for a good romp that leads into a curiously major ending.
Similarly, the sombre piano/vocal intro to “Somebody Tell Me I’m Dreaming” that soon follows is quickly joined by a piercing glockenspiel line that helps balance out the sinister nature of the song.
However, this is where the comparison between these two songs stops… because what this eventually evolves into is a nine-minute epic of swirling guitars, howling vocal harmonies and reverb-heavy violin before it slows down and drifts off into an effect-laden static – definitely something that would’ve been in good company on any Wings album.
Some might say their material is fairly standard indie rock fare, but looking back on their previous material THE FIRES OF have become so subtly versatile AND catchy with their songwriting that the things they might eventually create in the future really are up to the listener’s imagination – and if their latest music offering is any indication, they’re about to make sure that you start using yours.
- RYAN STEPHENSON PRICE