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I am not quite sure how I came across Firewater, possibly because of a connection to gypsy punk scene which I have been exploring of late (Balkan Beat Box 's Tamir Muskat featured on several of Firewater' s albums and produced this one). However it happened, it was only recently that I discovered this New York outfit that coalesced in mid-1990s around the uber-cool Tod A, a bassist and songwriter previously connected with the noisy industrial ensemble Cop Shoot Cop.
Over the following ten years Firewater created tracks and albums of impressive range. However decent that material was, it didn't compare to the 2008 album ''Golden Hour''. This was created after (or rather, during) Mr Tod's self-imposed exile-cum-journey he started in 2005 after a divorce and the Americans electing George W. Bush for the second term. ''Golden Hour'' is a wonderful album that truly delivers on all the promises of Firewater's earlier offerings, and much more besides. Combining the very much ''alternative'', post-punk rock roots with various world influences from Balkan to ska, klezmer, cabaret and all kinds of Asian sounds, it is interesting, energetic and full of angry joy.
Tod A apparently recorded with local musicians on the way; from Sufi bands in India to Pakistani drummers to Turkish and Israeli musicians who formed a significant proportion of the final album's (and the following tour) line-up. The result is a fantastic album; incredibly vibrant, alive, pulsating with rhythms and themes of the world travelled but ultimately still referencing the American background of its main creator.
As cool as cool gets, Tod A's rasping voice and wry, depressive-with-a-hint-of-hope lyrics invite comparisons to Tom Waits, and this - as much because of the vocals as a bohemian cabaret strand in the music - is quite ostensibly true. I am, however, often put in mind of The The's Matt Johnson, perhaps less through the sound and more through the general mood of the vocals.
Lyrically (and to some extent musically), this album is a journey, starting with a dream of leaving in ''Borneo'' and (almost) finishing with the return to the US in ''Weird to be Back''. The lyrics will appeal to angry and depressed late teens and 20-somethings but even your reviewer, closer in age to Tod A than I imagine his his typical audience to be, liked the poetry, black humour and quite grown-up wry desperation (but not as self-indulgent as some earlier Firewater tracks were). If somebody needs a proof that going away is, sometimes, therapeutic, ''Golden Hour'' is as good as it gets.
Musically, ''The Golden Hour'' is a lively, and I would even say quite danceable album, bouncing across the world in a somewhat delirious (not to say stoned) way. I can't recognise the musical instruments played, but there are Indian and Middle Eastern climates aplenty along with more Eastern European, klezmer and gypsy sounds; all encrusted on the solid post-punk background. You'd be best to listen, but if you imagine the Pogues with the Irish folk influence replaced by (a much more exciting IMHO) Asian and Balkan sounds, and think you'll like it, try ''Golden Hour''.
Some tracks sound more, well, American ("Hey Clown", "Three Legged Dog"), others - the better ones I think -present more of a mixture. ''Six-Fort-Five'', a drunken melancholy coloured by tropical sunsets; ''This Is My Life'', a pulsating bhangraish dance rhythm underlying a wail of disillusioned despair; ''Weird to be Back'', a jaunty reverse-culture-shock jingle with an undercurrent of rage; a slower and more lyrical ''Paradise'' which appears to present an insight into a young suicide bomber's soul (or anyway this is my reading) with a haunting tune.
Among the best tracks are ''Borneo'', a lively, angry, energetically hypnotic (if there is such a thing) gem of a track which lyrically dreams of the wilderness (Tod A did in fact go and live in Bali for a while, I am not sure about swinging from the banyan trees) and snarls at Dubya; a slower and more melancholy Eastern European-influenced tune '' Some Kind of Kindness'' which is lyrically among the best and which, in not-entirely-clear way reminded me of The The's ''Kingdom of Rain''; and finally, as for now (though this keeps changing), my absolute favourite, ''Already Gone'', a finger-in-the-face of everybody, gypsy influenced anthem ideal for those thinking of leaving it all and ''burning all the bridges goodbye''.
All in all - in case you are in any doubt - I absolutely loved ''The Golden Hour''. For some reason it appears as to be released on CD in July 2012 on the UK Amazon, but it's been out since 2008 and is available for download for example on emusic.com. Firewater's new album ''International Orange'' comes out in the autumn of 2012, I can't wait.
[the title of this review comes from the ''Already Gone'' lyrics]
Firewater made albums throughout the late 90's and early 2000's and they made some pretty good stuff but nothing compares to the new album "The Golden Hour", back in 2004, the singer A. Todd (formerly of Cop Shoot Cop) split up with his wife and was dumped by his record company. Todd packed his bags and headed out on a 3 year trip of Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Israel. He had originally intended to go to Afghanistan but due to bombings and danger, he only got as far as the Karkorum Highway. He suffered illness and robbery on his trip but also had a great time playing with plenty of talented local musicians.
The songs on this album were written during that trip and have a distinct flavour, the basis of them were written with a collection of musicans and have been re-done for the album with an array of talent including the likes of Erik Skanko and Tomer Yosef.
1 - Borneo - a truly great track without faults. I know it really well but for some reason, I'm devoid of comparisons for it. The closest I could come up with is They Might be Giants. It's basically praising the beauty of Borneo and saying how he'd prefer to stay in the paradise that is Borneo whilst attacking the US government.
I'm gonna set my sails for the virgin soil
You know I don't wanna die for the price of oil
(Here I come, Borneo)
I wanna watch the sun set every night
I'm gonna fall alseep in the cool moonlight
(Look out, Borneo)
Complete with twangy guitar, choruses of I-I-I-I-I and monkey sounds (towards the end).
2 - This is my life - another superb track, a really lively one with a bhangra style to it, it's the only song where the lyrics dwell on his situation (Well I lost my home, I lost my wife, This is no joke, Yeah this is my life) but the focus is on Tod's voice which sounds harsh and hurt which mixes well with the jolly Indian sub-continental backing. More quality lyrics in:
I'm just one man
What can I do?
Against an army
An army made of you
Time marches on
To a drum and fife
This is no joke
Yeah, this is my life
3 - Some kind of kindness - Balkan/Latin rock with Tod starting off in a Tom Waits style and then going into more of a Leonard Cohen mode, a song which covers one of the album's most common theme which is kindness, whilst some songs cover the receiving end of it in this case it is the need and hope for it during his trip that is discussed. A great complete tune, again not a step wrong. 9/10
Maybe there just ain't no use in trying
Every one of us is born alone and someday soon we will be dying
But don't you ever pay no mind
Because when you lie with me I feel that I
I feel some kind of kindness
You know this is no way for us
Ragged and damned at the heel
And deep down you know
There's gotta be a better life for us
Than drifting like dust through an hourglass
Waiting for our blood to congeal
That's why we're singing...
Followed by the chorus
4 - 6:45 (So this is how it feels?) Possibly my favourite song of the album, the singing is incredibly similar to Leonard Cohen in this song, it has a slow Latina groove with the occasional burst of Indian or arab fused rock and even a hint of Eastern European classical music in there. A song which covers 12 (or maybe 24 hours) of wallowing over what's lost!
So this is how it feels
To throw your past onto the floor
And smash it beneath your heels
So this is how it feels
To catch your face in a broken glass
And know that that's what's real
5 - A Place not so Unkind
Romantic lyrics to a slow song ith acoustic guitar but occasional bursts (specifically towards the end) of surf rock and intense electro style guitar that almost sounds like a siren of some kind, plus a bit of tambourine. Pretty good song but nothing amazing by this album's standards.
6 - Paradise
Most notable is the roots style percussion on this song and later various psychedelic guitar breaks, the lyrics are intriguing - supposedly about disorientation but it could be something to do with being robbed in Pakistan or then again maybe something completely different.
Taxi girl, sad luck and thorazine
Victim of some very bad advice
Little fish caught in a silken purse
Paradise comes with a price
7 - Bhangra Bros.
Bhangra, wind instruments and a bit of turn tableism creates a funky instrumental track that sounds like Tetris in a Music Hall in Delhi.
8 - Electric City
After a few songs which aren't legendary, this one really gets back on track with superb lyrics, a great hookline "Shine, Electric City, Shine" and a complete faultless mix of bhangra, eclectic drumming and various other stuff going on.
9 - Hey Clown
This song is so catchy and really great, also another political attack on the US. The chorus of:
We're gonna put you in the ground
We had it all and then you blew it all away
You turned our happy upside-down
We're gonna burn your flag and piss on your parade
(Piss on your parade)
is all the song really needs but the great parade style music and trombones plus other lyrics make this undoubdtedly one of the best songs of the year.
10 - Already Gone
This song is about him leaving and going off traveling and writing songs, dancing, diving and all to the backing of good gypsy/Balkan music with strange horror films sounds (scream/ghost noises) every so often.
Well I'm one day older
And I'm feeling like a soldier
Yeah you know it's colder than a morgue out on this quay
But I'm ready for a last trip
As they hoist me on board this container ship
'Cause where I'm going to, nobody knows my name
11 - Feels like the End of the World -
Surf rock and oriental sounds to Tod doing his Leonhard Cohen style singing about staying in the same place on his trips, drinking a lot and pining over his ex-wife:
And every word I never spoke dies like a spark smothered in smoke
pulled from the glow of a shitty cigarette
And I probably should shave and dig myself out of this grave
But I can't go
No, not just yet
12 - Weird to be back -
Starts off with a beer can opening and belts immediately into fast fun Balkan beats rock, this song discusses the return to Tod's homeland US after the 3 year trip. Again, it's amazing how everything fits together so perfectly, complete genius. A very fun track.
13 - Three-Legged Dog -
Probably my favourite track of the album (or have I said that already?), with a quick beat and fast clever lyrics, catchy "wooh ooh"'s in the best way ever since Sympathy of the Devil. Dog references exist throughout the song: "
No I may not be good-looking, but I'm a killer in the dark
And girl you know my bite is so much better than my bark
So if you need a friend tonight, why don't you come find me in the park."
"Can't afford to be too picky when you're living on the street
But sometimes if I'm a good boy, they'll throw me a piece of meat"
A great finish to a great album 10/10
I listen to lots of new music everyday and this is the only album in recent years where I can safely say that every song is faultless. True genius, I can't recommend you buying this album enough and if you want to check it out first, the whole album "The Golden Hour" is available to listen to on their myspace page: www.myspace.com/realfirewater
I also posted on my site - http://www.musicneverdied.com
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 This Is My Life
3 Some Kind of Kindness
4 Six Forty Five
5 Place Not So Unkind
7 Banghra Bros
8 Electric City
9 Hey Clown
10 Already Gone
11 Feels Like the End of the World
12 Weird to Be Back
13 Three Legged Dog
14 [CD-ROM Track] [Bonus Documentary Video]