Firewater – The Golden Hour

3 out of 5

Produced by: Tamir Muskat

Label: Bloodshot Records

Firewater’s sound, to start, carried over the brashful restlessness of Tod A.’s previous band, Cop Shoot Cop, essentially following the more rhythmic trends that trickled in to CsC’s final disc, Release, but no longer having to necessarily bow to the conflict-baiting nature in which that group initially reveled.  In other words, song and melody and meaning became more important than being notably anti-establishment.  And this development continued, eventually sharpened into a higher profile release, Psychopharmacology, which finally fully gave over to a toe-tapping, singles-resplendent track list, dropping in a year that was pretty good for indie music and getting a good mix of coverage in music mags for both the cool kids and the top 40 kids.

But those other groups experiencing that good year seemed to hog most of the spotlight, and Psychopharmacology sort of came and went.  The Man on the Burning Tightrope followed a couple years later, but it felt like a group slightly torn between pursuing a pop agenda and returning back to the rootsier side of their first couple albums.  The covers album that followed suggested a similar crisis: in lieu of am identity, Tod A and crew went back to some classics, perhaps to rediscover ye olde music spark.

…Sentences after the fact, I’ll add that all of the above is conjecture, based on working in a music store at the time this stuff was coming out and noticing local buying trends.  But what we do know as a science-backed, inarguable fact: The world’s opinions are directly influenced by my own.

And my opinion is that the Songs We Should… cover album gambit worked: the Firewater of Golden Hour is rejuvenated, bringing a lively, listenable spirit to its every track, and maintaining a truly grounded sound, encouraged, in part, by a quirky idea which had Tod traveling to India, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia, picking up local musicians along his travels to assist on the songs.

Unfortunately, despite this inspired production – and my long-winded build-up – the album never quite surpasses ‘catchy’ for me.  It has a wonderful, street-level rawness and groove to it, and it does sound fully realized and confident.  Catchy isn’t a bad thing.  But the whole thing is seemingly driven by an agenda: Tod skipped town on account of the George W Bush Jr regime (interesting to reflect on at the time of this writing, with Trunp as president), as rather explicitly explained in opener Borneo.  This spectre of, in a way, activism, hovers over the album – as it did similarly for a lot of music at the time – and undermines the downtrodden narrator identity Tod’s rumbly vocals had served well on those CSC and early Firewater discs.

The …extrospection, let’s call it, triggered by politics, does result in some really passionate and effective moments: This is My Life is a pretty searing take on a man taking stock of things, and Already Gone, late in the album, is the resigned and sad resolution as a result.  Elsewhere, though, that can-kicking wanderer perspective is used for ain’t-not-America-great romanticizing (Six Forty Five) and obvious finger-pointing barbs (hey clown), until Tod returns back home in Weird To Be Back.

And its been a fun journey, if somewhat undermined by its dated (though again, see: Trump) messaging.