Fire On Fire had a tough job to do. Not long ago, they'd released an excellent 5-song EP, and they promised to follow it up with a full-length release by the end of 2008. Well, the album, The Orchard, is coming out on December 10, and we are given the task of listening to it and reporting to you.
First off, let us describe a bit about the band that we've been able to discover. They are a 5-piece outfit, forged from former members of Cerberus Shoal, who all live in the same house in South Portland, Maine. This is a fertile area for new folk groups, being the home of the Time Lag label, former home of groups like Espers and Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice. Though Fire On Fire haven't been on that label themselves, the cross-fertilization would seem to be valuable to anyone trying to work in this emerging genre.
Our very first impression on beginning The Orchard is that this is what The Byrds might have sounded a little like, had they been formed in the backwoods of Maine or the Appalachians instead of Los Angeles. The sort of folk psychedelia that was fairly common up until the mid-'70s seems like the root of this music coming through our headphones. Everything relies on acoustic instruments, notably banjo and stand-up bass, and the ever-so-slightly-nasal singing common to Appalachian folk.
As we listen to this, we are taken to an alternate America, one which lives according to another ideal. Like Oscar Wilde, Fire On Fire seem to enjoy both the gutter and the stars. They are not, we think, Godless, but their religion has no time for the Hellfire and Brimstone that characterized so much of the American church experience during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As the song “Haystack” puts it, “There's so many, so, so many/Ways in which to feel the Sun.” We're reminded of the excellence of Euclid when they offered their horse to their persecuted Mormon neighbors in “Fare Thee Well”, and the spirit of acceptance and neighborly love brings joyful tears to our eyes just as it did then.
The harmonies of these voices are like a rural gospel choir, the sort of thing that one can only hear among people who live closely with each other, who know each other well. The beauty of it all shines like the sun at the heart of an America that doesn't have a “real” and “fake” division.
Young Gods Records have brought us both good and bad (there are a couple of YGR releases of which we have never been able to understand the appeal), and this is very much one of the better ones. Go get it.