Monday, July 13, 2015

Get Powerless with The Burning Hell!

Here's an album that I've been wanting to tell you all about for quite a while. I discovered Canadian indie funsters The Burning Hell at a gig in Cardiff last month (I was mainly there to see support act Quiet Marauder), and so rad were their jams that I was compelled to buy one of their CDs.

The CD that I bought was Flux Capacitor, and friends, it truly is a rare gem. Great tunes, fantastic and frequently hilarious lyrics, fab brass/wind arrangements...this one has it all. I've never known another album to be so beautifully sad and yet so joyously celebratory at the same time.

So how do The Burning Hell pull off this trick, this seemingly impossible emotive paradox? How can a single album be so stunningly bittersweet? Well, let's do a bit of dissection - goodness knows I'm itching to do some good, hard album analysis after a whole week of blinkin' lists.

As I see it, the central theme of Flux Capacitor is powerlessness. The opening track, My Name is Mathias, repeatedly reminds us that "most of life is an accident", and that we have relatively little control over our circumstances; elsewhere, Nostalgia focuses on mankind's inability to turn back time, while Like an Anvil and Bedtime Stories dually point out that life, unlike books and films, very rarely has a satisfying narrative arc or a happy ending.


However, I wouldn't say that Flux Capacitor is an album about powerlessness, exactly; it's an album about finding power in powerlessness, and that theme is the album's main source of both joy and melancholy.

For example, album centrepiece Let Things Slip Away positively revels in the fact that nothing lasts forever, with Mathias Kom gleefully announcing that the key to happiness is just that - letting things slip away, whether they be religion, dead TV characters, unicorns, or whatever.

Representing the sadder end of the spectrum, we have two beautiful tracks from later in the album: Kings of the Animal Kingdom and One Works Days, One Works Nights. The former tells two very sad stories (about a dog being put down and a young boy being forced to eat meat against his wishes), then reminds us that we ought really to be happy about these things - after all, the fact that we can charge money for keeping dogs alive and force our children to eat other animals proves that we truly are the kings of the animal kingdom.

We're number one! *sob*

Conversely, One Works Days, One Works Nights deals with a far more human problem than getting eaten or getting put to sleep: the struggle of trying to save a failing relationship. The powerlessness in this song stems from the fact that - as the title states - one partner works days, the other works nights. How are they finding power in this powerlessness? By fighting with each other, sadly:

And that's what Flux Capacitor is all about: the way we turn powerlessness into a different sort of power. Sometimes we fight; sometimes, as in Bedtime Stories, we clench our fists and shout at children. Sometimes, when faced with something we can't control or understand, we'll have a big Daily Express-style moral panic, which is the tactic chosen by the concerned hive mind that narrates the awesome Pirates.

And sometimes, we'll simply reassure ourselves that, well, there'd be no point going back in time anyway, because it can't possibly have been as good as we remember it. It's just nostalgia - what good is a flux capacitor?

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