I’m trying as hard as I can to make this review brief, lacking the rambling (read: boring) style that my reviews can often delve into. I’m going to try extra hard to make this one a curt little piece so I can drive home exactly how good an album There’s a Fire is. The album is a leap forward from Longwave’s last full length, The Strangest Things, and miles ahead of the bands formerly used as comparison points (Strokes, etc.) This is an album filled with rock songs so anthemic, (I refuse to use U2 in reference to anthemic- when was the last time you felt a rush listening to “Vertigo”?) your ears might give out. Longwave have turned in a complex, heartfelt, experimental rock album that just feels massive, but never clumsy.
The album begins with a mission statement of sorts with its title track. A tense keyboard line, powerful drumming and an uplifting guitar melody buoy poetic, slightly existential lyrics, like “in the end it’s all the same / when there’s no one left to blame whether your dancing in the light, or crawling on all fours.” This is one hell of an extraordinary opener. If there is one word that might seems foreign in the above, it is certainly “poetic” in reference to the lyrics. Longwave, while always being able to craft impeccable rock songs, were never extraordinary or especially effective wordsmiths (“I am everything you wanted, I am everything you need” was the refrain from the hit, “Tidal Wave” off their last album). On There’s A Fire, they stretch themselves while also acknowledging their flaw- the songs’ lyrics are often brief, natural realizations- Bright Eyes they ain’t.
Track two, “Underworld,” is just as jarring, sounding as though it were recorded underwater (rumor has it the album was originally a concept piece about a sea creature) with distant, muffled drums, and singer Steve Schiltz providing a delicate falsetto. Halfway through the track, however, the song abruptly changes into a psychedelic freakout. A similar progression occurs in first single, “River (Depot Song),” where the song’s moody aggravation surrenders to an extraordinary two minute guitar solo at its end. I could gush this much over every track on the album, save two, both of which suffer lousy production at the hands of the normally great John Leckie (who has produced albums by The Stone Roses and Radiohead). “The Flood” could be a great track, were it not for the pretentious, ineffective echo attached to Schiltz’s voice, and “Tell Me I’m Wrong” sounds like pop-punk made by robots, with blips and beeps all over an otherwise adequate rock track.
For every flaw on the album, there are three or four successful experiments, like the reworked “We’re Not Gonna Crack,” (originally appearing on last year’s Life of the Party EP) a straight ahead mosh worthy agro-rocker, or the bossonova percussion on “Down in Here.” However, just like The Strangest Things, the band has saved its real gems for the albums conclusion. “Fall on Every Whim” is a touching, sprawling ballad most bands wish they could write. “Underneath You Know the Names” a plodding, victory lap of a song, closes the album in high style.
Longwave recorded There’s a Fire in an old house in upstate New York, away from their stomping grounds of Brooklyn, and save a short EP, it was the first material from the band in nearly three years. Leave it to a band like Longwave to wait for all hype to die down before they actually deserve it again.