Reviewed by Jack Derricourt
There is a land, where the rock and roll is just. There is a place where the four-four beat never gets old, smelling fresher than plastic money. There is a forest of four track cassette tape out there, warbling in the wind. There is a city full of Strange Fires. Edmonton!
The new stalwart destination in my mind when it comes to pop music has produced yet another class, Canadian act. Patrick Earles, lead maverick behind Strange Fires, is capable of harnessing psychic shifts with aplomb. He produced the first EP in 2012 all on his lonesome on a Fostex tape machine — make sure you check out the brilliant sounds of “Tidal Wave.” That release felt like a postcard of musical appreciation compared to The Walkabout EP, and the new album smacks of thoughtful exploration. Full on guitar arrangement and heavier, pronounced drumming fills out the earlier sound of the older recordings to make the Strange Fires collage expansive and alive on first listen.
“But he can’t sing,” said the blonde man at the bar, snorting his own moustache in with a long inhalation of wheat beer.
“So what?” Jack replied earnestly. “That’s what people said about Mick Jagger and Ian Curtis. You’re really going to write off a group’s music just because the vocalist has a different vibe than Miley Cyrus?”
The moustache stages a riot and strips itself away from its meathead of a host, voyaging off to find more openminded pastures.
Yes, the vocal delivery takes some getting used to. Earles’ use of echo on his voice adds a sideways, psych edge to his deadpan delivery. But while the melody might lag, the phrasing is perfect: “Walkabout” features beautiful Beach Boys vocal hooks, paired up with chill, psychic grooves of guitar. You feel him stretching up to a varied approach with the yelps spliced into “Friends,” alongside the brutal bitterness of the song’s lyrical content.
Two pleasant features of the past EP return: the space voyage samples seen on the initial Strange Fires release return on “Interlude,” a wonderful change of pace in the middle of the record; and the dreamy, pop heavyweight, “Spring Break,” gets a new pair of shoes, with more guitar clout and a shinier polish. Both nice revisitations.
The last two songs on the EP are deep ruts of guitar and shimmering effects, coupled to ravines of depressed, introspective lyrics. “Walkabout” is an “I just wanna have something to do” kind of mini-epic, perfect for the malaise-minded listener. And “Departures” seems very poignant for a group that would disband merely two weeks after putting the finishing touches on the EP.
But be not afraid, dear reader. I’m sure that Patrick Earles is out there now, formulating new tunes to croon, stalking through the Edmonton evening. If the songs composed on his upcoming walkabouts are anything like the most recent ones, we’re in for a treat.
Top Tracks: “Walkabout” ; “Interludes” ; “Friends”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)