by Jayson Greene
May 24, 2019
With Fire's newest EP, Future Ghosts, they've found the ideal balance of bright, lush tones; their sound progresses at a graceful, even clip; they leave just the right amount of time between albums.
f you view a band as a long-term artistic project, then Fires have always been perfect. Doug Bartholomew, Myke Boss, and Erin Germ have done everything right: They’ve found the ideal balance of bright, lush tones; their sound progresses at a graceful, even clip; they leave just the right amount of time between recordings. Even their name is perfect: Fires are a sometimes calm, sometimes roaring, event that, by nature of their existence, live outside of time.
Part of the joy of yielding to their luxuriant music, then, comes from sensing the comfort of these solid borders framing it. Their music explores the sadness of pleasure, and the pleasure of sadness, and with each recording they deepen this inquiry a little more. Their newest, Future Ghosts, is another impeccably measured step forward. Their albums might be an ideal soundtrack for daydreaming, but the three creative forces that make up Fires seem remarkably clear-headed about their work.
The most noticeable changes they make here are adjustments to lighting and angles. They’ve stripped back the booming drums of We Don't Die, We Hibernate and boosted the bass and guitars, giving a new physicality to ethereal sounds. On "Nostalgia Is Killing Me", Bartholomew’s vintage-bass tone is dissonant, mixed right up front, and a little uncomfortable, like a crick in the song’s neck. The guitars have a brittle edge, suggesting the involvement of actual human fingers. The backing vocals are mixed a few inches closer, so they sound less like a celestial choir than an earthbound crew of worried voices whispering secrets.
These minor tweaks result in a sound that retains the band’s grand theatricality, but also lets you smell the grease paint a little more, feel the itch of the Victorian-era fabrics on your skin. When Boss sings "These future ghosts are waiting for a place to call home/Living day to day dragging anchors - I cut mine long ago" on the sweeping mid-EP highlight "You're Never Too Old To Party And Neither Am I", it registers as exactly the sort of high-flown Romantic soliloquy he’s always preferred. Like the old instruments they prefer, touches like these give the music an air of innocence, evoking silent films, community theater productions, puppet shows. Fires have grown so adept at spinning dreams that they can turn all the lights on the set and still dazzle us.
"Trance is a big part of our thing," Germ said in their recent Pitchfork interview. "We'll repeat a part for three hours while we wait for the next piece to fall into place." On Future Ghosts, you can almost hear these dawning moments as they happen, with a palpable click. The bone structures of these songs are closer to dance tracks—with builds, drops, peaks, and switch-ups—than the flourishes of traditional post-hardcore songwriting, and this frame allows Fires to stretch out and telescope their songs without getting lost. On "Accosted By Kevin Costner", Bartholomew alternates between a pinwheeling melody and a more open-ended, spoken-word performance, with Boss’ arpeggiated guitar stitching a visible, silvery thread through both.
One of the first lines Bartholomew sings on the EP is "I'm a captain of industry in the fine art of misery." Isolated, it’s an emblematic Fires lyric—a promise of transportation that leaves the destination unspecified. In fact, it doesn’t even promise arrival: he just wants to take you there. It is this melancholia, the exquisite ache of being nearly aloft, that Fires has perfected. With every album, someone observes—rightly—that the band has never sounded exactly this full and soaring before. From their muted first two records, into their Ashtray Monument debut Future Ghosts, Fires always seem to be just leaving the ground as we catch them. It’s a trick of the light, and it speaks to the sadness that makes their music linger: Transporting experiences, they gently remind us, are always round-trip tickets back to everyday life.