Graded on a Curve:
The Fireworks,
Switch Me On

The Fireworks’ primary sonic objective is drenching catchy guitar pop in feedback and fuzz as they add gal-guy vocals and unleash the ingredients through a trim energetic attack. Featuring 13 hard-hitting songs and a handful of twists, Switch Me On is the London and Brighton UK-based four-piece’s first LP. It’s out this week on blood red vinyl exclusive to Rough Trade shops and on white wax via Shelflife Records.

The Fireworks boast a diverse if complementary background. To begin, vocalist, tambourine rattler and guitarist Emma Hall was/is a member of Pocketbooks, a group that amongst other achievements headlined the inaugural indietracks festival back in 2007. Held at the Midland Railway Centre in Derbyshire, indietracks has grown from a one-day event into a huge annual affair spanning a cluster of calendar dates.

Similarly, the club parties/DJ nights Hall’s singing partner and guitarist Matthew Rimell organized under the telling name Big Pink Cake unsurprisingly blossomed into a record label. To my knowledge The Fireworks’ bassist Isabel Albiol doesn’t set up fests or club-nights, but as a visual artist of note her intriguing work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions. And that leaves drummer and additional guitarist Shaun Charman, formerly of The Wedding Present and a member of The Popguns.

In 2012 The Popguns recommenced activity and were one of the acts shaping up indietracks’ ’14 shebang; their participation in a roster 59-deep reinforces the tight-knit and thriving nature of the indie pop scene. Likewise, tilting an ear toward The Fireworks’ debut, a self-titled 4-song EP issued by Shelflife in ’13, underscores how said community is largely less concerned with attempts at wheel reinvention and more interested in subtle variations upon memorable rides down well-traversed routes.

The bands excelling in these endeavors at recalibration are predominantly those holding either legitimate ties to or a sincere interest in the genre’s prior accomplishments, and as detailed above The Fireworks’ possess both. Strengthening those bona fides is “Getting Nowhere Fast,” a spiffy cover of a tune originally by Girls At Our Best!

Amid numerous locales, the source material can be found on the undersung Leeds outfit’s first single from 1980, and The Fireworks’ faithful rendering is easily heard on YouTube, though it was released last year in physical form by the freakScene label on a very attractive and fully-playable flexi-disc postcard. Alongside “The Fireworks” and “Runaround” EPs, “Getting Nowhere Fast” completes the group’s pre-2015 output.

Also from ’13, the second 3-song EP delivers a slim preview of Switch Me On, the new album smartly reshuffling two selections and placing them up front for an immediate kick. “With My Heart” conveys pounding distorted brevity; Buzzcocky as per their stated list of comparisons and therefore aptly assessed as fairly if not deliberately Ramonsian, the instrumental motion contrasts nicely with the unstrained assurance of Hall’s vocals.

Some indie pop can inspire a soul to read Proust while puffing on a clove cigarette and sipping herbal tea. Other examples might potentially result in a picnic brunch of croissants and quince preserves packed in a vintage lunchbox and consumed in a glade atop a hand stitched quilt. Good times. But “Runaround” is less grandiose, basically designed for a delirious accompanying pogo.

Clear voiced and urgent and lacking in affectation, Hall hangs right in with the speedy buzzsaw template sans hitch and inflicts upon her tambourine a severe throttling. The guitar is suitably rough, the rhythmic drive avoids superfluous gestures, and the production by David Holmes and Simon Trought integrates Rimell’s support singing to maximum effect.

Like the opener, “Runaround” makes a powerful statement, its reappearance providing Switch Me On with an early highlight. It’s followed by the melodious strum and ample lung harmony of “Let You Know,” Rimell taking the vocal lead as the energy level is reduced and replaced with a generous helping of rainy day ache.

It proves a momentary respite, for “Tightrope” reestablishes the atmosphere of raw catchiness, Albiol and Charman quickly locking into a propulsive, sturdy groove as Rimell continues the string-assault with a zest reminiscent of 1977, his persistent simplicity working in fine counterpoint to Hall’s popish contribution.

The same punk-derived eschewal of flashy embroidery permeates the Rimell-sung “Which Way to Go,” its directness combining with the Hall-voiced “Took It All” to further underline The Fireworks as disciples of Shelley (Pete, not Percy); however, this shouldn’t suggest they don’t have a firm handle on intent. To the contrary, a few sly moves are on offer, and I especially enjoy the precise midsection buildup in “Took It All.”

As experienced indie pop scientists The Fireworks lean to the uncomplicated but are not sloppy, and Switch Me On’s title track brings a welcome adjustment, in this case Hall’s breathy emoting and a wall of distortion descended more from C86 than 1977. The tune climbs a ladder of intensity and then leaps to a rousing, vocally harmonious conclusion.

While “Switch Me On” expands to nearly four minutes, the rowdy stomp and sass of “On and On” constricts to less than two. And “Back to You” revives a bit of the strummy ambiance of “Let You Know” and mixes it with a sharper thrust; Rimell’s initial guitar progression, at least to these ears, seems pilfered from an earlier source (I shan’t spoil it) only to rapidly head into different regions.

From there the band settles in for the home stretch, though they do manage to evade the formulaic; if the title song feels connected to the later ‘80s, then “Stay Here” is akin to the stronger indie pop of the next decade. And the Rimell-sung “Corner of My Mind,” if ultimately a modest entry, does show how to blend the pop and the punk without succumbing to any blatantly egregious gestures, and at this late date that’s pretty far from nothing.

Rimell remains at the mic stand as “Final Say” further explores the melodic punk model, though in fact Albiol’s opening bass thunder foreshadows the track’s eventual morphing into a tangibly ‘90s indie zone complete with noisy amplifier splatter, the contents approaching five minutes. And “In the Morning” closes the LP with a curveball, emanating an air of electric-folk sporting more than a passing resemblance to Galaxie 500.

This may be The Fireworks’ first full-length, but it easily transcends any rookie scenarios, starting with a bang, ending on a note of the unexpected, and never losing the thread between those poles. Registering shorter than its 37 minutes, Switch Me On is likely to delight indie pop partisans and could possibly be of interest to folks not particularly besotted with this specific style.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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