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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Album Review: Quest For Fire - Lights From Paradise

According to singer/guitarist Chad Ross, this latest release is a “heavy meeting of all the music we love … pounding psych straight from the Canadian heart”. Clearly, “all the music they love” is a reference to the players’ wide array of musical backgrounds (Ross and guitarist Andrew Gunn were once part of indie rockers The Deadly Snakes whilst drummer Mike Maxymuik thrashed it up with metalcore’s Cursed); a fact that has shaped the band’s mind-blowingly varied output as they delve into the realms of stoner rock; and a fact that has enabled Toronto’s Quest For Fire to quickly switch from their self-titled debut’s tendency towards the sharply aggressive, raw punk end of stonerdom to where they are now, on Lights From Paradise, ekeing out passively-shifting, immersive psych (an experience tangibly reminiscent of something last felt whilst listening to The Warlocks) that steadily swells and abates. Throw in a guest spot from Sophie Trudeau (Montreal’s Thee Silver Mt. Zion) and her magic fiddle and it’s like being hard-wired into the music; being drip-fed adrenaline in one arm and morphine in the other.

Trudeau simply owns their oozing seven-minute introductory piece, ‘The Greatest Hits By God’, with her bowed notes gently placed above the grungy oomph of the chugged guitar and echoing vocal. ‘Set Out Alone’ and ‘Strange Vacation’ pick up the pace, kicking up the dust of the past with a Cream-esque wall of fuzz sounding off behind the garage blues drive so reminiscent of current bands like Dinosaur Jr and Dead Confederate. QFF’s party trick is their uncanny ability to knit the rough with the smooth, sucking you in for their punched hooks until you simply drop out with them as they ramp up the sustain and ditch the grunt for a smooth, rush of power chords and drifting vocal that doubles the track length. It’s an effortless shift in emotional direction that so few bands have truly mastered. The transmogrification from ‘Strange Vacation’ to ‘Confusion’s Home’ is the finest example of this and will undoubtedly leave you mouth-gaping at their mastery of moodswings.

Then, with a resounding strike on their division bell, they dig you out of your reverie and dump you, blinking like a newborn, in an unceremonious heap. Why they felt the need to suddenly throw obnoxiously clean acoustics, fatuous percussive breaks and glibly overwrought patterns upon their audience is beyond me. Both ‘Psychic Seasons’ and ‘Hinterland Who’s Who’ prove to be both left and right sore thumbs of this sophomore album. That’s not to say they don’t employ fuzz or Ross’ creamy, oscillating vocal; they merely eschew complex structure to simply blast through peaking rises, never clicking or settling until they shoot out the other side and fade to close. It feels like that switch from the relative safety of recorded programmes to the grainy, flickering image and seat-of-the-pants unpredicatiblity of live telly.

The final nine-minute cruise under the hammered rain of cymbal and drum, Pink Floyd-mimicking all the way, proves even ‘Sessions Of Light’ is more than enough to demand a return to the wondrous immersion that the first half of the album soaked itself in. All this is a bit of a shame because it doesn’t follow that a band with a potted history should produce such a potted album, yet ‘Lights From Paradise’ doesn’t deserve such a haphazard phrase being dumped upon it. It contains moments that transcend beauty, an album that delivers more than the sum of its parts. Put bluntly, a vaguely dim ending simply doesn’t dull the lighbulb of genius that precedes it.

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