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Flaming Fire - When the High Bell Rings

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Artist: Flaming Fire

Album: When the High Bell Rings

Label: Silly Bird

Review date: Jan. 16, 2007


Three albums into their demented, theatrical existence as Flaming Fire, these Brooklyn synth-prog-Greek choristers continue to redefine the term "cult band." That phrase normally means something like "an obscure musical outfit with a limited, fanatical following," and Flaming Fire certainly qualifies under those criteria. But it also might mean an actual cult, with rules and sacred texts and costumes and purple Kool-Aid sitting out on the counter and creepily enough, Flaming Fire seems like that sort of cult, too. They perform their shows in red togas and, in their off time, are supervising the creation of an "illustrated bible" with a painting for each of the good book's 31,103 verses. God, the devil and fanciful mythic creatures figure prominently in their songs, and the arrangements juxtapose cheesy drum machine beats and new wave inanity against cathartic shouted choruses. With their massed girl-group exuberance and dark, maniacal undertones, they sound like the B-52s locked in a death struggle with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. You don't know exactly how seriously to take any of this; it's a drunken conga-line that might be snaking its way toward human sacrifice.

Flaming Fire pits the harsh, menacing voice of Patrick Hambrecht against the singsong optimism of female members Lauren Weinstein and Kate Hambrecht. Their interplay makes for disturbing drama a dialogue almost in cuts like "Farmer Wolf," where Hambrecht plays the lupine protector, the women a sort of Greek chorus looking on at the carnage. ("Farmer Wolf, open your eyes / All your pigs are covered with flies / There's crows in the air, can you hear their cries?") The musical backing is a combination of plastic synthetic riffs and ritual pounding drums, blithe pop with the bottom falling out and chaos always just around the corner.

Hambrecht brought in a long list of guests to supplement his core band this time, including co-producer Tony Maimone and members of Faun Fables, They Might be Giants, Barbez and Crimson Sweet. The whole enterprise has a goofy, skewed "let's put on a show" feel to it, excessive in every way, but with a core of experimental seriousness.

All these songs are deeply cracked, but none more so than "Lemon Isis," a tune that adroitly lays the Isis/Osiris myth over that icky Gainsbourg family (Serge and 13-year-old Charlotte) recording, "Lemon Incest." Hambrecht says that he first came up with the song for a Gainsbourg tribute at NYC's Loser Lounge series. The band was supposed to do a cover, but things went seriously offtrack. It's hard even to summarize, but imagine a percolating synth beat under a verse that says, "So Osiris and Isis (Incest!) / Were lovers(Incest!) / Brother and sister / But their uncle was jealous (Jealous!) / And killed Osiris / And chopped them into pieces / And threw them in the river." It's giddily warped, silly even, but wickedly intelligent, too, and worth the price of entry all by itself. It makes up for the long and pointless "Moon," about 10 minutes of electronic noodling that never coalesces into anything intelligible.

By Jennifer Kelly

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