Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ball of Flame Shoot Fire - Grumpy Little Bird EP

[MP3] Ball of Flame Shoot Fire - "Red Meat"

Ok, friends. This is going to be hasty, but I wish very much that it wasn't. Things've been a little more than ridiculously busy recently (Langerado, deadline, incredible show last night - Liam Finn/The Most Serene Republic/Miracle Fortress). It's kept me from translating all my pages and pages of notes and intentions to the digital world. There are a few reviews I've been promising, and this one wasn't technically the first in line. But of all the things I've received in the mail because of Fear of Arthropods, this little record, Grumpy Little Bird from Pittsburgh's Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, is my favorite.


Here's why (in awkward bulleted list format, no less):

-Giddy vocals: including, but not limited to, a bit of yodeling/cracking between octaves/falsetto/yelling. I'm sucker for falsetto. And warbling. This EP's got both. Smacks of Zach Condon just a touch, but not nearly as operatic. Imagine Beirut meets TV on the Radio, vocally.

-They're theatrical!: like Man Man (who they've played with, Tim from the band tells me), but not in exactly the same way. What struck me about the first 30 seconds of the EP is that there's emphasis (I just totally got a kick of using emphasis html around the word "emphasis," btw...)! Effective rhythm variations, saloon piano, time changes. This is more than your usual pop fare, and it's a little insane the same way Man Man is. Which isn't to say they're a Man Man ripoff at all. They're not. They go in for more balladry than Man Man does, but they've taken so much of what I love about that band and used it to their advantage. Kudos. (And they're weird without scaring me a little like some bands do that shall remain unnamed....*cough, Bearsuit, *cough...)

-Fun instrumentation: like when they use saxophone (which tends to annoy me, but doesn't here) without coming off like some sad attempt at smooth jazz. They walk this silliness line and perform it all with a sense of humor, but never make a joke of their music. It's fun without losing weight. "Down the Street" even features a cheesy electric organ effect, but it's performed so well technically and with such feeling. It's completely endearing. (It actually says "Yay!" in my notes, if you must know...)

-A few song-by-song observations: (not edited well, so there's a bit of repition - time restraints, sorry...)
Standout tracks are the lead, "Red Meat," and the as-crazy or, perhaps, crazier, "'rado." Maybe I like insane? "Vroom Vroom" features that saloon piano, punchy, slide guitar, saxophone; lead vocals slide into shaky falsetto of the most charming kind. Fast and committed. None of that mid-tempo crap. "Down the Street" is all cheesy electric organ, tracks of people talking in the background, lends to a social feel. Doesn't take away from the weight of the album. These guys have a sense of humor, but I've always thought that contributed to the credibility of music. "'rado" tends toward vocal stylings reminiscent of The Darkness, all squawks and Freddie Mercury-esque exclamations. Banging piano tempered with excellent timing and well-placed yelled choruses. These songs are almost tone paintings, to a greater extent than is often found in pop music. They illustrate their points, not only talk about them. A touch Ben Folds, bits of brass, occasional squeezing of too many syllables into one line (so charming!), a-la Xiu Xiu. "Vasco de Gama" does this, and is quite good, especially for use of the phrase "necessary expense" in very little space...the song talks about conquistadors over seriously beautiful ostenato parts and brass backing and octave vocal leaps. It feels like motown meets Coldplay. But not icky.

What else can I say? I take it this is a young band's first real release, and it's loaded with potential. I hope to hear more from these guys.

Says the band:
Grumpy Little Bird is available for purchase from Big Big Truck Records [which means you should just email or MySpace message the band] for 5 bucks. The tracks are:
1. Red Meat
2. Flaming Wreckage
3. Vroom Vroom
4. Down the Street
5. Rado
6. Vasco da Gama
7. Wolf Cry

(All images ripped off from BOFSF's Myspace)

1 comment:

Adam said...

You know the saxophone was the first instrument I learned to play. I'm sorry you find it generally annoying, but honestly I think that aside from SNL's band sax riffing is awful.

The saxophone at its best is wildly experimental and not prone to formulaic reproduction of pleasantries.