Showbiz hobnobber that I am, last week I commented to Evening Fires’ Kevin Moist via the miracle of e-mail that their album Light From On High sounded “pastoral”. Gently reproaching me he suggested the alternative tag of “rustic”. This set me thinking and ultimately led to the conclusion that we’re both wrong.
“Pastoral” evokes an ideal, an idyllic countryside life that probably doesn’t and has never existed, an obvious example being The Kinks’ ‘Village Green Preservation Society’. An album that may sound pastoral, such as Paris 1919 by John Cale is actually quite dark once you read the lyrics. On the flip side, “rustic”, when it doesn’t refer to a gastro pub serving you chips on a wooden board, relates to having a simple, plain quality. Which simply doesn’t account for Evening Fires. Stadium rock is plain and simple, if you want plain and simple, go see Status Quo, if you must. So where does this leave us?
Evening Fires are rooted in the Earth and the soil. Inspired by the Appalachians and their native Pennsylvania they set their surroundings to music, but not in a grand, cinematic post-rock way. Luckily, the kind of picture-painting they go in for has a universal appeal, anyone who has lived or grown up in somewhere out-of-the-way can relate. Growing up on the foot of the Pennines (American readers may wish to imagine the Appalachians, but smaller, greyer, wetter, with the occasional sheep stood on a 45 degree incline not far off becoming a disappointing Sunday roast) I can easily attest to the landscape being conjured. Hell, parts of Middle Earth probably sound like Light From On High.
(I think Wile E. Coyote had an accident here)
(I think many people had accidents here)
Enough prevaricating, lets actually listen to Light From On High. ‘Pulpit Rocks’ starts with messy piano before organ washes, guitar scratches and the rhythm section kick in. Displaying a nonchalant groove, the laid back tone is impressive considering the propulsive drums.
‘Strange Meridians (I)’ starts with the kind of sleepy psych that label mate E-Gone specialises in, with a droning unreality raining down a funereal tone of dread. All of a sudden the rains have descended and the mist wraps itself around you. There is a certain sense of decay and entropy, reminiscent of Bowie’s Berlin albums, possibly even ‘Decline Of The West’ by the B.E.F. Excellent stuff.
I was just thinking that the third track sounds exactly like dawn breaking when I glanced at the song title: ‘Greet The Brand New Day’. Consider that a job well done, lads. Sprightly piano, light percussion and a sharp, yet distanced guitar carry this song, carved this same cloth as Tom Verlaine’s ‘Days On The Mountain’.
‘Magic Hippie Force Field’ sees ghostly wailing and strange going on in the corner of your vision. A fog horn calls out mournfully, a long, long way away. A slight dub sensation ensues. The song still has an energy though, like a nightclub deep in the bowels of the earth for the undead.
Finally, ‘The Molten Fingertips Of God Almighty’ has more crystalline guitar, like the clear water of a river passing through a forest brook, underpinned by a quietly impressive bass guitar amble, foraging like a stoat in the undergrowth. Building and ascending, led by the guitar, the song takes you to the peak of a mountain to survey the kingdom that stretches for untold miles before you.
The songs unwind in their own good time, the shortest being over 7 minutes. But then, this is an album that doesn’t need to get anywhere fast. The use of guitars in achieving these textures is impressive, considering most bands opt for dominating strings or keyboards to attain the effect. The drums are often jazzy, without being wanky and the interplay stellar.
The sound of telling spook stories around a crackling camp fire, Light From On High is perfect for those cold winter nights, with a book, a warm drink and snack food. Or simply lie back and let the sleepy psychedelia wash over you and let your brain waves tune in to the magical frequencies of Evening Fires.
(The intrepid traveller is advised to look in the direction of Deep Water Acres website, as that fine label’s albums aren’t the easiest to get your paws on)