by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
The collective Set Fire To Flames were destined to release just two albums – but their debut Sings Reign Rebuilder has developed something of a cult following since its release in 2001. In the UK it was released on the Fat Cat imprint 130701 as its first ever release, the reason the whole label was begun – and it sold out within weeks. 21 years later it returns in the form of a remaster, reissued on a heavyweight black vinyl double LP.
Set Fire To Flames were a 14-piece collective set up in Montreal, with links to all manner of post rock or experimental outfits, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Exhaust, Fly Pan Am and Hangedup. Godspeed’s guitarist David Bryant was effectively the group supervisor, establishing the membership and taking ownership of the recording, which took place in one heavily concentrated improvisation session.
For five days in an old Montreal house, the newly assembled band explored making music in one confined space, in various states of sleep deprivation and intoxication. The many hours resulting from the sessions were heavily edited, with Sings Reign Rebuilder the result.
What’s the music like?
In a word, uneasy! Yet that would be to throw away the obvious amount of effort that went into both the recording and editing processes.
Despite the name of the collective, Sings Reign Rebuilder is seriously dark and often mournful music. It does however have an intensity that is rare in instrumental music, the strength of feeling you would associate with classical music from the likes of Penderecki or Gorecki – even though this is improvised music from Montreal.
The band’s use of stringed instruments is especially gripping. Omaha… begins as a sorrowful duet, while the towering slow burner that is Shit-Heap-Gloria Of The New Town Planning… has a very steady build that culminates with the oscillation of two violins in a dark duet. There is also intense cello interplay on Two Tears In A Bucket.
Elsewhere the outlook tends to be rooted in noise – and a good deal of that is unsettling, with scratchy effects not too far removed from nails down a blackboard, or traffic-based noises that have a more mechanical basis. Vienna Arcweld… behaves like an instrument that refuses to function fully, with a sawing motion in the treble register, while Cote D’Abrahams Room Tone starts with what sounds like roadworks – and yet somehow possesses an ambience of the everyday. Injur: Gutted Two-Track also fidgets with extraneous noise.
Vocals are rare, though those used on Wild Dogs Of The Thunderbolt draw the listener in.
Does it all work?
It does – but the unremitting intensity and darkly shaded processes mean that this is not music for all seasons or moods. When it crackles into life, though, the music of Set Fire To Flames is hypnotic and magnificently brooding with its drones and subtle melodic interplay.
Is it recommended?
It is, as a highly effective project with compelling musical results. In remastered form, Sings Reign Rebuilder is even more gripping than it was in 2001.
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