Firekites: The Bowery
Own Records

Named after the vacant coffee-house/dancehall where the initial sessions for its ten songs were recorded, The Bowery impresses as a well-rounded and polished debut collection from Firekites, a Newcastle-based outfit formed in 2005 by multi-instrumentalists Tim McPhee and Rod Smith who are joined on the album by violinist Jason Tampake, vocalist Jane Tyrrell, electronics colourist Richard Pike, drummer Matt Blackman, and a handful of others. Exquisite in an understated way, Firekites' folk-pop sound receives a significant boost from Tampake's violin playing, which adds a sweetly melancholic character to the album's songs, and Tyrrell's soulful voice. Though subtle electronic enhancements appear, the group's sound is rooted in acoustic fingerpicking and lush vocalizing.

Buoyed by a sparkling wave of acoustic guitar, finger-snaps, lush strings, and smooth vocals, “Last Ships” gets the album off to a strong start, with McPhee 's lead vocals nicely complemented by Tyrrell's rejoinder. With her soft voice appearing alongside McPhee's, “Same Suburb Different Park” finds Firekites sonically and melodically gravitating towards L'altra territory. Tyrrell's voice floats over an electronic fuzz-toned backing during the bluesy “Another State,” then later flirts with a soulful jazz intonation during the folk-swoon of “Worn Weary.” While The Bowery is primarily a vocal-based collection, the instrumental “Paris” registers as something more than filler when Blackman's moog and Tim McCartney's double bass surface. Its acoustic core sprinkled with piano and tremolo guitar shadings, the breezy instrumental “New Year Has Spoken” takes the album out on a free-spirited skip. Firekites' songs are like breaths of fresh air, with vocals as often as not breathy whispers and the arrangements rich and full-bodied without being cluttered. Devotees of Hood, L'altra, Elliot Smith, and even Nick Drake should find Firekites' material to have strong appeal too.

October 2009