When the narrative comes to be written for standout albums of 2009, there’s going to be a whole heap of Scottish bands involved. And they just keep coming: The Phantom Band, My Latest Novel, Meursault, We Were Promised Jetpacks, the live Frightened Rabbit Album, Broken Records… There Will Be Fireworks are the latest to well up from the fertile Scottish plains, and I suspect, come the end of 2009, they’re going to be somewhere near the top of that ragged heap, if not at the very top.
The facts are these: There Will Be Fireworks are four Glaswegians – old school friends – Adam Ketterer (drums, glockenspiel), David Madden (bass), Gilbran Farrah (guitar, violin, piano) and Nicholas McManus (guitars, vocals, organ) and this is their first record, though it has been a fair while in the making. It was recorded pretty much live in a huge 17th century mill in Stratharven and it’s hard to miss the fact that the circumstances of the recording have invaded the record’s very weave – it sounds huge. What the band have done is taken the dynamics of a certain strand of post-rock (think Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky) and squashed them into throbbing, explosively passionate songs, and in doing so have channelled something of a new sound – a propulsive, widescreen sound that seems at once born of the organic live recording situation and something else, something deeper. There are lives packed into these songs, and at times it feels as if the skin is close to ripping.
The album begins with a poem written specially for the album by the Stornoway writer and poet Kevin MacNeil. His writing is full of heat and fire, often frayed at the edges – quite a coup for the band and just the perfect fit. His lilting yet powerful monologue (“for there will be fireworks/and they will light up your eyes/and you will feel more alive than ever before/just as your sister would wish for you…”) is consumed by an immense firewall of howling guitars. It’s a powerful statement of intent. Somewhat surprisingly it fades into the calm of ‘So The Story Goes’ – a vast sounding track, but one built around a bare skeleton of distant guitars and understated brass. It’s here and on ‘Midfield Maestro’ that you get a real sense of that recording base the band used – the gaps between the instruments seem almost unnaturally huge at times, and whilst the production isn’t always perfect it’s great to hear such an honest and live sound.
‘Midfield Maestro’ is also where you get a real sense of the band’s emotional punch – and it’s the first of a trio of songs that give the album its narrative heart. As ‘Midfield Maestro’ builds to a huge close (and Ketterer’s drums sound immense here) McManus is bleeding into the mic ‘we’ll set these tapes on fire as your heart breaks in my car/you’re unravelling in my arms’ and you can hear his intakes of breath as they vibrate against his taut vocal chords. The track melts into ‘Guising’ a gorgeous vignette detailing a trick or treat incident, which in turn becomes ‘Off With Their Heads’ – a genuinely epic track which is the band at their very best: raw, ambitious and adept in weaving emotion into dynamic sonic patterns. The closing moments make me want to bust through the top of my head.
You could say, though it would be unfair (what of the broad sweep of ‘A Kind Of Furnace’, the strung-out drama of ‘We Sleep Through The Bombs’ and ‘We Were A Roman Candle’, with it’s blizzard of guitars and aching refrain of ‘I could have been more cautious!’?), that the record never recovers from this highpoint But in truth, and this rambling review is testament to this, the record is ambitious and detailed enough to hold the attention – you can get lost in shadowy corners, listen for buried references to earlier tracks, and all of the while feel a part of the thing. It’s a truly inclusive record. Christ only knows what they’re like live.
For information purposes, the Fireworks record is available from the band themselves as, mystifyingly, they’ve not yet been signed. You can buy from their website here. Do it.