The Theater Fire | Matter and Light (s/r)

cd_theatre-fire.jpgThe Theater Fire refuses to rest on their laurels, filling nearly every moment of the album with intriguing sounds.







The Theater Fire hail from the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, deep in the heart of Texas yet hardly rattlesnake country. Despite this, their music is steeped in sounds that feel freshly imported from dusty country lanes, overgrown front lawns, and desolate locales where you might be the only person around for a dozen miles. Matter and Light flows with ambling, laidback grooves that recall the most effortless Americana, but played with an unhurried pace that eschews stereotype. The band’s songs exude a hushed dignity but are also permeated with a sly sense of offbeat humor that lets you know the band aren’t taking themselves too seriously. It’s the sound of being stranded at the intersection of two remote county roads, out of gas, pissed off at yourself, yet simultaneously unable to quit laughing.

A trio of songs at the start of the album immediately impresses. "It’s All the Same" stretches out with a relaxed, acoustic strum, punchy trumpet and grinning vocals. "Uncle Wayne" uses a similar pace, along with banjo and distant piano to paint an enjoyably weird, nostalgic tale. The song’s plainspoken yet highly vivid lyrical imagery is a recurring strength throughout Matter and Light. "Swashbuckler Blues" bobs along using little more than gentle acoustic guitar figure and muted horns to lull the listener into an escapist daydream of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

An album could probably get by on little more than those tunes and a bunch of filler. However, The Theater Fire refuses to rest on their laurels, filling nearly every moment of the album with intriguing sounds. "Coyote" somehow combines the rustic sounds of Appalachia with the swirling tension of a spaghetti western soundtrack and a hint of New Orleans jazz shuffle, making the concoction seem like the most natural thing in the world. The sorrowful trumpet on "Cease" is sweeping and elegiac, just yet another example of the band’s outstanding use of horns. In fact, most everything here is full of a palpable, yet unpretentious sense of drama and gravitas. Case in point: the brief yet astonishingly beautiful "It’s a Secret," a song that sounds like a personal, yet well-earned, freedom feels. And if all of this wasn’t enough, the album’s proper songs are interspersed with short yet powerful interludes, including a spectacular, wordless, theremin-infused cover of Elliott Smith’s "Say Yes."

The Theater Fire are a difficult act to categorize, neither alt. country nor bluegrass, not jazz, Nashville country, or straight up rock, but incorporating elements of all (and a great deal else) into an intoxicating, simultaneously somber and fun sound. What that means is that Matter and Light dances around your ears, temporarily undefined, until it finally takes hold. That same quality means that this is also music with true spirit, as inviting as the warm glow of the porchlight of the house on the album’s cover. B+ | Mike Rengel

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