Galaxie 500 | REWIG70 | Released: 22/03/10

Image: on fire galaxie 500



Richard King

Bliss through noise and the escape into a psychedelic headspace were both attractive propositions in 1989. On Fire arrived dressed in a beautiful typeface cast in the hues of a hallucinatory dawn. The sleeve, a wash of refracted filters, shows a band looking exactly like they are: three New England students so comfortable in their own skin they can allow themselves a smile. Behind them is the trail of passing clouds. Stare closely, let your eyes dilate and the clouds are now plumes of smoke. The elements aligning into a beguiling, almost menacing, drift. 

On Fire inhabits an awesome, distorted reality. The band, ostensibly a trio of guitar, bass and drums, sound more like a sun carriage. Damon Krukowski’s cymbals and Dean Wareham’s falsetto become lead instruments. Naomi Yang doesn’t so much play as paint with her bass. These abstract tones and spots of primary colour are the sound of three people locked somewhere in a beautiful space, the midpoint between telepathy and propulsion. From the languorous opening bars of ‘Blue Thunder’ to the euphoric closing refrain of “What a pity, what a pity” the record moves back and forward allowing waves of electricity to swell and break across its ten tracks. Few songs have been more appropriately titled than ‘Snowstorm’ and few bands have been in such graceful control of a maelstrom. Has anyone played a wah-wah with such equine grace as Dean Wareham? Each note in the solo crystallizing the reverie of a snowflake hitting the ground.

Lyrically, On Fire is disorientating. If this is a psychedelic record it is un-pastoral. Its characters wander round the city trying to make sense of their surroundings. A ‘Plastic Bird’ has its legs broken, its nose smashed and gets discarded on First Avenue. In ‘Snowstorm’ the TV is going wild. Put your clothes on and ‘Leave the Planet.’ The record is full of unanswered and unanswerable questions: “Why does everybody look so funny? Why does everybody look so strange? When will you come home?” rhetorical and almost numb. The only response is the emotional pull of such beautiful music. The searing despair of ‘Strange,’ the distortion at the end of ‘When Will You Come Home’ and in the detached confirmation in Yang and Wareham’s voices, “That every day is not the same.”

On Fire moves at an almost erotic pace, aglow in its strange and visionary world. A perfect, liquid equilibrium. Listen, and lose yourself, in the heat of this alchemical masterpiece.