Category Archives: Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third

Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third: The Thirty Three and a Third Vinyl Giveaway

Formed in 1984, Fire Records has a huge number of releases in its catalog, and this past week we’ve celebrated their thirty three and a third years of pushing platters into your local mom and pop shops by taking a look at thirty three and a third of the label’s highlights pressed to vinyl. But we’re not done just yet.

The fine folks at Fire have furnished us with a copy of each LP we’ve spotlighted this week, and in one tidy bundle we’re shipping them off to one winner in a Fire at Thirty Three and a Third Giveaway.

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Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third: A Canon of Sorts, Part Two

And so, here is a second dose of Fire Records’ defining highlights as we culminate this doffing of the cap to a fine enterprise’s truly deep catalog; hey, we could’ve easily done 33 1/3 more!

Bardo Pond, S/T (2010) By the point of this release, which served as Bardo Pond’s full-length debut for Fire, the band had existed for nearly 20 years. Placing this in the “canon” might seem a questionable move, but that’s where the “of sorts” comes in, though I do rank this 70-minute, 2LP set quite highly, considering it a prime example of Fire’s range of output and a highpoint in the discography of the band.

Yesterday, in describing their latest Under the Pines, I stated that the Pond program hadn’t been altered, but please don’t mistake that as meaning their records are interchangeable. No, the loose trance-bluesy opening of “Just Once” lends immediate distinctiveness to this effort, which won’t be confused with the outfit’s other releases. “Don’t Know About You” carries them into stoner/ doom territory (Isobel Sollenberger’s ominous vocal drives it sweetly home), and the 21-minute “Undone” is a showcase of inspired extendedness. Bardo Pond is a gem illuminating psychedelia’s true potential.

Television Personalities, The Painted Word (1984/1990/2017) The early LPs by this crucial post-punk act were first reissued by Fire in 1990; there have been additional pressings, with the catalog deservedly coming out again this year. An early, thoroughly British example of neo-psychedelia with a dash of Mod and a helping of twee, Television Personalities have been led since formation in 1978 by the inspired eccentric Dan Tracey.

Those only familiar with “Part Time Punks” and debut album …And Don’t the Kids Just Love It might be surprised by the change; the cover photo is indicative, as much of The Painted Word enhances the blend of Swinging London, Pop Art, Ray Davies and Syd Barrett with Velvets-derived edge. Early members Ed Ball and Mark Sheppard are absent, but Joe Foster is still around, and the record does retain ties to prior efforts; “Someone to Share My Life With” is audibly post-Jon Richman, while “Happy All the Time” effectively hits that twee button. “Back to Vietnam” caps a dark set that’s gotten better with age.

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Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third: Lasting Relationships

A label’s identity is partly established through the company it keeps. The records below expand on the matter.

Bardo Pond, Under the Pines (2017) Philly’s bastion of heavy psych has been part of the Fire roster for only a portion of their existence, but based on this record, the band’s third long-player for the label (fourth if Acid Guru Pond, their 2016 studio summit with Germany’s Guru Guru and Japan’s Acid Mothers Temple is counted), the association has been a fruitful one. As the six tracks unwind it becomes apparent they haven’t lost a thing, and have further been disinclined to alter the program, so newbies with a love for prime Bay Area sweetness and post-Detroit amplifier gristle can step right up to this one.

The heavier psych gets, the more difficult it can be to effectively expand, but Bardo Pond doesn’t have that problem, mainly because they don’t really thud, but rather burn and move methodically forth, their power building incrementally in settings of subtle complexity and a preferred slow pace (the name of a collab with ace Kiwi guitarist Roy Montgomery was Hash Jar Tempo). Isobel Sollenberger’s vocals continue to add distinctiveness, shining on Under the Pines’ title track, and her flute, which is given the spotlight during instrumental closer “Effigy,” provides an unstrained link to the ’60s root.

Guided by Voices, Let’s Go Eat the Factory (2011) No one label can harness the seemingly incessant flow of creativity that springs from Dayton, OH’s songbird and rocker Robert Pollard, but since 2011 Fire’s done a solid job of corralling the return of his highest-profile band. This was not only the comeback of Guided by Voices, but the reunion of the “classic lineup” (that’d be Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell on guitars, Greg Demos on bass, Kevin Fennell on drums, and Pollard at the mic, natch) making it something considerably more than a recommencement from whence GBV’s 2004 farewell victory tour left off.

Let’s Go Eat the Factory didn’t disappoint. Like the records that solidified GBV’s reputation in the mid ‘90s, it’s stuffed with songs, many of them short but satisfying in the manner unique to Pollard, as the album added to the guy’s near-gobsmacking level of songwriting prolificacy. Yes, that means not every tune is a gem, and some of it (like a pair of Sprout’s tunes) borders on bizarre, but as on the most noteworthy of later-period Pollard related product, the pieces all fit, and the whole isn’t something a fan would want to miss.

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Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third: Enduring Relevance

Of course, a label must not rest on its laurels. Here’s seven strong ones from the last year.

Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Mid Thirties Singles Scene (2016) Fire has a solid connection Down Under, both Kiwi and Aussie, and this is amongst their best signings. Featuring the vocal, guitar, and songwriting talents of Craig Dermody, Melbourne’s SACW dish out an extension of indie rock at its slam-bang best, raise it up with subtly sharp tunes, and drive it home with a working-class comportment. In this case, the mood is resigned with an undercurrent of melancholy rather than defiant or angry.

Impossible anywhere but Australia, at times SACW’s sound harkens all the way back to the Velvets, but the way they infuse the Loaded moves with wah-pedal smudge manages to sound fresh against the odds. Folks have also mentioned Pavement; I hear more of their countrymen Eddy Current Suppression Ring, but minus that band’s post-punk angle. I once thought nothing here equaled the combo punch of opener “Maureen” and the insta-classic “It Don’t Bother Me,” but having just went back to check, the album’s later songs have gained substantial ground. I love it when that happens.

Mendrugo, More Amor (2016) Mendrugo’s core is represented by Josephine Foster, her husband Victor Herrero and his brother José Luis. With a bit of help, they offer a delightful serving of Spanish folk hitting the sweet spot where tradition, intensity, and imagination meet; the record unwinds like a series of colorful, unusual tales told by a group of close friends. Part of the enjoyment of More Amor is in hearing these expert musicians spin something utterly fresh out of the rudiments of convention.

While there is never a shortage of verve, the results are emotionally rich and deftly eccentric rather than flashy; when electric bass emerges in the mix, it does so seamlessly, its presence clearly for the betterment of the whole. The pleasure in More Amor’s making is obvious, and it spills over into the listening.

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Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third: Underrated Gems and Deeper Cuts

Acknowledged classics are the backbone, but a label’s longevity is also based upon listeners spending days into weeks into months getting acquainted with undersung discoveries. Here are seven.

The Garbage and the Flowers, Eyes Rind as if Beggars (1997/2013) A whole lot of Kiwi musical product, much of it related to the Flying Nun record company, has been reissued to substantial acclaim over the last few years. Formed in late ’80s Wellington by guitarist-songwriter Yuri Frusin and vocalist-violist Helen Johnstone (with assistance along the way), The Garbage & the Flowers waxed nothing for Flying Nun; the lo-fi nature of their stuff was better suited for the Xpressway label, but in fact they cut nary a peep for that enterprise either.

This no doubt partially explains why so few know this set, an ample and at times astounding double reissued with a CD of bonus material. Eyes Rind as if Beggars is far from cut-rate lo-fi; far too many acts used the tactic as a look-at-me move while jumping atop the springboard of relative normalcy, but not this bunch. Wielding an undeniable pop streak, they leavened the sweet with the dark and radiated a consistent sense of being eavesdropped upon. If one wishes to hear the legit influence of the Velvets rather than just the copping of surface Lou moves, step right up to this one.

Orchestra of Spheres, Vibration Animal Sex Brain Music (2013) Also hailing from Wellington NZ, the four-piece Orchestra of Spheres offers a markedly different experience than does The Garbage & the Flowers. The thrust on their sophomore effort (the first recorded in a “real” studio) is extroverted and hi-fidelity (24-tracks worth) art-dance-funk.

It’s a booming affair, but it’s as rhythmically complex and tonally eclectic as it is driving, recalling everything from ESG, Euro disco, Brit post-punk with occasional shouty bits (think Slits, Pop Group, On-U Sound), Konono Nº1, electro funk (with vocoder), Italian-style synth soundtracks, highlife, a dose of urgent, effects-pedal-hopping rock, and elements that are tougher to categorize. Overall, it’s a party as wild and colorful as the threads the band members donned in the promo snaps for this album.

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Fire Records at Thirty Three and a Third: A Canon of Sorts, Part One

Formed in 1984, Fire Records has a huge number of releases in its catalog. This week we celebrate 33 1/3 of the best, and it seems appropriate to begin the plunge with a few of the records that establish the label’s high level of quality and roughly define the parameters of their pursuit. So away we go.

Close Lobsters, Foxheads Stalk this Land (1987) Nailing down Fire’s first classic release is a debate-worthy topic, but without question the debut album from this Scottish band will be part of the discussion. Due to the Lobsters’ presence on the era-defining New Musical Express compilation C86, they endure as one of ’80s indie pop’s core acts, but unlike some of their cohorts they didn’t squander that momentum and shrivel in the spotlight.

Foxheads is one of indie pop’s stronger long-form statements, in the same ballpark as Up for a Bit with The Pastels and George Best. Like The Wedding Present, the Lobsters relied upon energetic jangle, a tactic in full flower here via “In Spite of These Times” and the wickedly infectious “I Take Bribes,” but they also maintained a distinct personality within the subgenre; this disc captures them honing it, spiking the melodicism with louder moments and culminating with the raucous, nearly eight minute “Mother of God.” Altogether, this is a prerequisite for any indie pop shelf.

Lemonheads, Lick (1988/2013) Over the years, Fire’s value has been considerably deepened by a steady stream of well-chosen reissues, their efforts keeping a slew of important material in print. Such is the case with the early recordings of the Lemonheads; formed in ’80s Boston, they straddled punk, college rock, and the gradually unfolding alternative scene, of which the group became a major contributor.

Inconceivable without the precedent of Hüsker Dü, by Lick they’d begun to expand beyond that template a bit. Additionally, the set documents the exit of founding member Ben Deily; as it’s the final disc prior to Evan Dando signing with Atlantic, it marks the end of an era. Filled out with previously recorded stuff, including a “hit” cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” Lick is uneven, but it grows punkier as it progresses and shines a bright light on the stylistic contrasts that caused Deily to depart. It all goes down quite easy today, and any record with a cover of Proud Scum’s “I am a Rabbit” is cool with me.

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