Monday, June 29, 2009

FOA OMG!!1!: Ball of Flame Shoot Fire

There was a time (it may still be going on, in fact), when the sheer act of contacting me directly through my Fear of Arthropods email address about your band basically obliged me to listen to whatever music you sent along. See, just as what you wanted was to be in a band and to have that band be successful and heard by lots of people, what I wanted was to be a music journalist and to write about bands and hear music before it releases and have what I write be read by lots of people. When individual artists and labels and publicity companies started sending me promos or inviting me personally to listen to records...well, I still flush with excitement whenever a bubble envelope arrives in the mail or when a full album download shows up in my inbox. It's the best.

Back in the day (a whole year, year-and-a-half ago!) someone named Tim from a band called Ball of Flame Shoot Fire out of Pittsburgh sent me just such an email. Tim made a good case. He had searched for some of the bands they had shared bills with, and this led him to FOA, where I was (as usual) gushing about Man Man. He told me BOFSF had opened for Man Man before, and that if I liked them, I might like his band, too. Then he sent me an EP. It was called Grumpy Little Bird (the name made me giggle right off the bat), and while it was a bit rough around the edges, the compositional prowess it betrayed was well beyond what I had come to expect from unsolicited promos. I liked that it was virtuosic and unhinged, full of howling and crazy piano etudes and big words.

Now, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire has released their debut full-length record. It's called Jokeland (pronounced like "Oakland" but with a "J," Tim tells me), and it marks a palpable leap forward for the band. Though still slathered with all the idiosyncrasies that made Grumpy Little Bird charming, it's a much cleaner, more realized effort. The production value is miles better, for one thing, but the songs themselves feel more fleshed out and mature as well. Sure, the vocal style is still weird. There are still frantic instrumental arrangements behind the too-many-syllables-for-one-line lyrics. There are still group sing-alongs. It still sounds like the musical representation of what might happen if a circus collided with a Southern rock festival--especially if there was an awful lot of pinstripes and face paint and feathers involved. But Jokeland is more experimental, sound collage-wise, and explores a greater range of compositional ideas. Certain numbers are down-tempo-- mellow, even-- and provide welcome relief from the feverish pace kept up by most of the album. I'm a big fan of "Wishthroat" and "Butcha Poppa," and "Bertie Hey" keeps getting stuck in my head for hours.

Jokeland is crazy and fun and smart and interesting, and I really hope enough people can stomach its beautiful weirdness long enough to dig in and really appreciate it. Stuff like this doesn't come around everyday.

No comments: