May 20, 2014

Album Review: Fire Mountain - All Dies Down

Fire Mountain's All Dies Down is my favorite pure alt-country album I've heard in ages. It harkens back to the 90s glory days of the "genre," bringing to mind the guitar pop of The Gin Blossoms, the addictive low-key melodies of Whiskeytown, and the edgy jangle of R.E.M.'s more country-leaning tunes. All Dies Down isn't stuck in that era by any means, but it certainly draws deeply from the well.

Lead singer Perry Brown has an affable growl of a voice that's versatile enough to drive heartland rockers like "Factory Line" or ache through the lush balladry of "Traces." Fire Mountain's sound is a big one - restrained, but full - with ample rhythm and crisp guitar licks. There's also piano (don't worry - it doesn't push them into easy listening territories) and it's a distinctive part of their approach, woven seamlessly into the songs.

The songs are the thing though. As good as Fire Mountain is, what they offer your ears on All Dies Down is much greater than the sum of parts. Love, loss, heartache, regret, finding your place, making changes - in their bio, they say (paraphrasing) this is the lot in life of being in your mid-twenties, but I don't know anyone who can't relate to the universal emotions relayed here.

Brown is a sneaky writer, both of subtle hooks and sharp observations. Lines like "How I hung heavy on your heart"  from "Anchor Iron" will slide by you so smoothly, you won't know how it got stuck in your head 3 hours later.  "When I kiss you just know that I'm spitting blood" from "Factory Line" is delivered with such simmering spite, you can taste the words.

"Doing Fine" is a prime example of the understated nature of these gently delivered but powerfully received messages. With a palette heavy on grays and muted hues, the gleams of light or glimpses of shadows stand out that much more.  The chorus seems simple, but simple like a Hank Williams song, forlorn and insightful.

"Traces" is my personal favorite on the album. It's a hard-hitting ballad with a sweeping chorus (with enchanting harmony vocals provided by Janet Simpson-Templin, of Delicate Cutters/Gum Creek Killers/Wooden Wand/ Teen Getaway) and it wouldn't be out of place soundtracking a somber breakup scene in some teen soap. That's not to say it's generic and schmaltzy… okay, it's a little schmaltzy, but it's so damn well-written and just unfair on an emotional level. I would have straight up wept into my cheap beer if this had come out during my college days. 

There are a few rockers on the album too, but the heart of the band is most strongly shown in the quieter moments. All Dies Down is thinking man's windows-down music. It's catchy sad-bastard music. It hurts so good.

Highly recommended to fans of: Buffalo Gospel, R.E.M., Reckless Kelly, The Gin Blossoms, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, good music.


All Dies Down is available at Bandcamp and iTunes.

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