Smoke or Fire: Above the City (Fat Wreck Chords)

With three-fourths of the songs clocking in under the two-minute mark, Above the City keeps the tunes tightly constructed in a more traditional punk sound

“Wake up and bring your bags,” fellow listeners, this is Smoke or Fire. The young four-piece had their debut album released on Fat Wreck Chords (Descendents, NOFX. Less Than Jake).

Smoke or Fire hail from Boston and have made a new home in their adopted city of Richmond, Va. The album, Above the City, starts with a jamming tune called “California’s Burning.” It is a good opener and grabs your attention.

Joe McMahon’s vocals are driving and understandable. In my early punk fan days, this was a major problem for me. Loved the pace and the driving rhythms, but had no clue what was being said. I just knew that the singer was usually pissed off about something and that was enough for me.

Favorite songs on Above the City were “Delawhere,” pretty short and sweet, and “Cryin’ Shame,” the latter having a nice acoustic guitar sound, vocals centering on loneliness and binge drinking. “Cryin’ Shame” has a slower pace that sounds fresh and shakes up the rest of the driving songs on the album. Guitars pick up during the last portion of the tune.

“Loving, Self-Loathing” is probably the most catchy song. Lyrically, it is quite strong: “This world can lose all meaning, burn and break your spirit, but something about you says it’s not too late for me.” It was nice to hear a touch of optimism in McMahon’s voice. Granted, the song is about how alcohol has practically destroyed the goodness in life. Perhaps redemption is around the corner, as well as a handy-dandy rehab clinic. Say it ain’t so.

With three-fourths of the songs clocking in under the two-minute mark, Above the City keeps the tunes tightly constructed in a more traditional punk sound. Ken Gurley and Nick Maggiore provide the bass and drums for Smoke or Fire. Meanwhile, McMahon and Jeremy Cochran share guitar stroking.

By the time you loyal PlaybackSTL readers peruse this month’s issue, Smoke or Fire will have hit the SXSW festival in Austin as well as the Lou’s own Creepy Crawl. With luck, the band is planning a more intensive tour to support its album in May.

—Mary Beth Hascall

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