Accessible and anthemic as Fireships are, they’re also as cutting edge as rock bands get these days. More often than not, they play a style of music that barely registered on the radar fifteen years ago: you could call it Americana chamber pop. As Americana became this city’s, and this nation’s default music, it seems that a lot of musicians in that style wanted to create something more hefty than, say, country blues, but also more substantial and tuneful than Coldplay or Fleet Foxes. That’s not the only hybrid that Fireships cultivate: frontman/guitarist/banjoist Andrew Vladeck writes fearlessly populist, Dylanesque narratives, and the band gets gritty with some pretty straight-up highway rock from time to time. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing at the big room at the Rockwood on November 30 at 9 PM. Drinks at the Rockwood are scary expensive, and they enforce a drink minimum there, but you can get a seltzer for three bucks.
After a bit of a false start, the album gets cooking with Going Down Fighting and its mashup of Penny Lane Beatles, gospel and strummy Americana, a moody but ultimately optimistic anthem for the current global depression. Living the Dream follows even more of an epic, Roger Waters-inflected sweep, the violins of Hannah Thiem – who’s also a darkly brilliant solo artist in her own right – and guest Skye Steele teaming with Lauren Balthrop’s electric piano to provide a pillowy backdrop for Vladeck’s vividly torrential lyrics.
Likewise, Long Shadow takes Blonde on Blonde Dylan into Deer Tick territory as Vladek paints a grimly picturesque but defiant portrait among the down-and-out:
I went away to get my blood changed
Had my wires rearranged
You might think that I’m acting strange
I’m just acting tough
I fired a shot thru the floor
The circus ran straight for the door
You asked me what I did that for
I guess I I had enough…
Flying cars and ricochets
Not a soul escapes unscathed
You might think those were the days
The best left to the past…
Blinds are drawn and a deadbolt clicks
Those dirty dogs will rip you to bits
All that funky junkie shit, you just ask my mates…
Countdown Time also traces a troubled trajectory, a gloomy drinking-and-driving anthem set to an oldschool disco groove: “Kill the rocket boosters, we’re on cruise control, we’ll make a tiki bar out of the console,” Vladeck intones. Then drummer Jason Lawrence and bassist Chris Buckridge push the fiery revolutionary anthem Chasing the Sun with a symphonic Phl Spector ba-bump beat, Vladeck channeling both the angst and the withering dismissiveness of a milllennial generation sick of living without a future and those who’d steal it away: “You can’t distract us, you’re old and your done,” he snarls.
Likewise, All We Got reflects on a now-or-never choice of sticking with a broken system or breaking free: it’s the Wallflowers updated for the teens. Vladek again looks back to Spector with the ballad Words Escape Me. Carried Away builds an ominous, oldtimey bluesy ambience, shivery strings mingling with Vladeck’s steady fingerpicking. The most savagely funny number here is Passing Knowledge of the Sexes, a spot-on, creepily cynical look at the realities of online dating.
Fantasy is another really funny track, caustically chronicling how people fall for celebrity culture: “Are you meant to hang from a velvet rope?” Vladeck challenges. The album winds up with the dreamily surreal 99-percenter folk-rock of Unplug the Stars. If you want to know what the smart kids are listening to these days, this is it.