In 2009, a year before the word “Baby” on its own would conjure images of one of Canada’s most reviled pop musicians, The Burning Hell was still a project with Mathias Kom at its centre but a rotating cast of musicians otherwise. The band’s catalogue goes deep, but Baby seems like a perfect album to look back on.
It’s got a song about birth, and another about the end of the world. It continues the saga of “The Things That People Make” and “Grave Situation.” It’s got weird vocalizing courtesy of Wax Mannequin. It’s got a meta song that tells you as it’s about to undergo a chord change.
Oh yeah, and it’s endlessly inventive musically.
There’s a reason the Burning Hell Bandcamp page has so many odd genre descriptions, “Hawaiian neo-swing” and “Doom gospel” being just a few. There are arrangements that take the band into baroque-pop territory, but at the drop of a hat it could become tropical or even medieval.
“Old World” is a perfect song to start of the album both because of its misleading name and propulsive, ukulele-driven instrumentals. The aforementioned old world is in fact the womb, and is written from about a baby whose world consists of blood cells, the placenta and amniotic fluid. And if the baby’s ambitious goals to visit “New Brunswick, the mall and the Toronto Zoo” weren’t enough for you, there’s also some kickass horn solos ably set up by the unborn narrator.
And that’s just the beginning! If you need something apocalyptic, “When the World Ends” has you covered, and might be one of the most upbeat-sounding songs about the planet’s destruction. Synth and percussion guide Kom as he wonders whether there will still be country songs and if the DJs will all play disco. “Dancer/Romancer” may not sound like a scary song with its smooth sound backed by an organ, but it appears to exist in a world where dancing is a method of survival and that’s just terrifying.
And while we’re still on the subject of death, let’s not forget the minstrel-y “Grave Situation Pt. 3” (featuring Wax Mannequin) that tells the tale of a group of people attending a Wax Mannequin show, only for a frustrated audience to start killing each other.
“The Things That People Make, Pt. 2” is on par with Joel Plaskett’s “Through and Through and Through” as a call and response with two vocalists, and its constantly shifting music makes it even more unpredictable. “Precious Island” is the musical equivalent of stepping out onto a beautiful summer day, and the sounds imitating steel drums will transport you to an island of your own imagination.
Every Burning Hell album has to have at least one moodier song, and that’s without a doubt “Everybody Needs a Body (To Be Somebody),” a song that’s now a staple of the band’s live set. As Kom contemplates his musician’s life, the song eventually becomes a bit more uplifting with a singalong in the form of a round.
After the Berlin conference and animal hides there’s the seven-minute opus “Everything Will Probably Be Okay,” featuring Jenny Mitchell and Mathias Kom singing about trying to be hopeful, and with little more than a little bit of backing track behind them. Cute line: “If live gives you old tomatoes/You can make ravioli.” As it goes on, it notes the album is almost over and warns the listener when the key changes from G to A.
Baby proves that with or without a core band, Mathias Kom’s style of songwriting is rare to hear in Canada; along with the Burning Hell, really only Blimp Rock and B.A. Johnston are carrying the torch. It’s the type of music that transcends—it’s heartfelt, hilarious and incisive.
Top Tracks: “Old World”; “Grave Situation Pt. 3”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*