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Amusement Parks on Fire “An Archaea” (2021)

Coming out in a just a few more days, An Archaea is the brand new album from Amusement Parks on Fire and I am SO excited! I can’t wait to get my hands on a physical copy! The CD and digital album will drop on June 26th, but as usual vinyl is delayed, in this case until September. (EDIT: The vinyl was delayed until February 2022 but when it finally arrived, it was worth the wait: it was a superb, flat pressing, on beautiful, extremely quiet, marbled pink vinyl).

WHO?

Well, you’re forgiven for not knowing who they are because their last album was actually released over a decade ago!

Led by Michael Feerick, and hailing from Nottingham, England, Amusement Parks on Fire‘s first (self-titled) album, released in 2004, was essentially a solo album as he performed all the instruments himself. It garnered impressive reviews and a live band was recruited, playing extensively with Dinosaur Jr. And M83. Out of the Angeles, their second album, was recorded as a full-blown 4-piece in Iceland at the studio owned by Sigur Rós.

Their third album, Road Eyes, recorded in Los Angeles, came out in 2010 and was called by Alternative Press, “A near-perfect album”. How do you top that? You don’t. Maybe that’s why the band began a decade-long period of silence?

I have to admit, Road Eyes is fantastic! It got a beautiful deluxe vinyl reissue in 2017 from Saint Marie Records in the US, and that’s likely the only reason I’d ever heard of these guys. Perhaps spurred on by the reception of the reissue (or perhaps the reissue was their way of easing back into the public eye) the band ended their self-imposed sabbatical that year with a slight lineup change, dipping their toes back in the water with a brilliant 2-track 7″ called Our Goal to Realise, also released on Saint Marie Records.

They followed that up in early 2018 with All the New Ends, a 12” EP, but except for a collection of previously unreleased odds-and-ends that came out in May of 2020, it’s been more or less radio silence since then.

Until now!

An Archaea, their first full-length of new material in over a decade, drops on June 25th 2021, and it was absolutely worth the wait. I’ve been living with and advance copy of this album more-or-less on repeat for the last week or so, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the gorgeous pink marbled vinyl that I pre-ordered~!

At times Shoegaze, at times Classic Rock, at times Goldberg Variations, and at time Noise-Pop, this is an album that is full of surprises and will keep you guessing. From the opening notes, it draws the listener along in an ever-twisting journey from darkness to light.

But what exactly is an archaea, and why would you name your album after one? Well, an archaea is an organism that is best known for living in inhospitable environments. Perhaps our journey begins by understanding that our protagonist is one who has spent their life in an extreme environment not generally suitable for human beings, not merely making the best of their situation, but turning it around and flourishing.

Though opening track “Old Salt” begins with an abrasive sonic assault, but those dissonant notes are not accidental. They are a starting point. They introduce you to the world as it is at the start of the journey, and set the tone for the beginning of the expedition.

Within moments, the noise progresses into a song that has an ebb and flow to it, with certain sounds and musical themes returning not only within the track itself, but throughout the whole of the album. There is a beauty and a cohesion to the noise and a sureness to the confident way in which the band deftly manages the interplay between noise and melody, steering the listener ever forward.

“Old Salt” segues into “No Fission”. There is something that I find equally charming and annoying in its broken beat and minor chord progression. Musically, it represents an important motif on the album, but like wine that’s been left in the sun, it easily turns sour and difficult to swallow. It has an insistence that demands your attention.

“Breakers” is the next standout track in my mind, preceded by the slow, water-logged instrumental track, “Diving Bell”. From the start, I kept expecting the album to be super heavy and dark, but instead I found that, for the most part, it shimmers with beautiful harmonies and noisy brilliance, becoming more and more buoyant as it moves along.

In fact, one of my favourite moments comes about 3 minutes into the fifth song, “Aught Can Wait”, when the harmonizing begins. There is something so gorgeous and primal in those sounds that the first time I heard it, the surprise of it took my breath away. In my mind’s eye, I was reminded of the sun breaking through thunderclouds in streaks of light over the ocean.

The first single to be released off the album, “Boom Vang”, comes after a brief intro via instrumental piece “Gamma”. The sound and structure of “Gamma” brings to mind the lapping of waves against the side of a vessel at sea. It’s the same nautical theme that I felt I had detected in the previous instrumental piece, “Diving Bell”. Both songs feel like a wooden ship rocking side to side upon the water, and while “Breakers” feels more ominous, “Gamma” seems to say that the storm is subsiding and the sun is coming out. “Boom Vang” confirms that we’re on a ship powered by the wind.

There is a brightness to “Boom Vang” that suggests joyful movement towards the horizon, “Racing the outline… follow as the crow flies… I’ll never go back… raising the boom vang”.

There is muscular guitar playing here, heavy and distortion filled, with great driving percussion, but there is also a surprisingly delicate touch in the gentle piano. Nice feedback flourishes give the impression of seabirds winging through the skies. There is a general feel of rapid forward momentum to this track. It was a great choice for initial single from the album. Plucked from it’s context as the seventh track on the album, it represents the near-epicentre of the album’s musical journey, neither too ominous like the opening tracks, nor too optimistic like those towards the end. It gives a slight taste of everything the album has to offer, both heavy and light.

“Boom Vang” is succeeded by “Atomised”.

Musically, “Atomised” follows a very similar vein to “No Fission”, but unlike the fear and rage in “No Fission”, here the movements and themes seem less desperate, and jarring. The dissonance of “No Fission” is replaced by smoother interpretations of the melody. The instruments and the vocals here are less jagged and on-edge. It offers a more palatable take on the musical theme, giving it a near reprise-like quality. In fact, some of the sounds presented are very reminiscent of David Bowie‘s “It’s No Game (Part One)”, even the way the track ends. Frankly, I think it’s brilliantly put together.

Title track, “An Archaea”, begins very reminiscent of something by Electric Light Orchestra. The piano, the vocals, the muted spoken word passages that hover just within the range of being intelligible, all feel like familiar ELO territory. Shining like an homage to ”Mr. Blue Sky”, perhaps this is the track that signals the end of dangers, the storm having passed? Perhaps, like his namesake, our protagonist has learned to not only survive, but to thrive in an extreme environment?

A few nights ago, I found myself unable to sleep and went for a drive around the lake on my motorbike. It was about 4 in the morning and the moon was shining brilliantly over the water, which I could see off-and-on through the trees as I drove. The cool dark air smelled fresh, damp and green, like a forest after the rain. I was listening to this album as I navigated the gentle hills and curves. When this song came on, I realized that not only had I memorized the words, I was singing along.

I am not a lyrics person. I used to be, but nowadays, I couldn’t really care less what most songs are about. That doesn’t mean I don’t know any of the lyrics, I just don’t think about them the same way I used to. I think more about the rhythm and melody of the song, and whether the lyrics feel like they suit the music. I tend to tap into the emotions evoked by a song rather than over intellectualize its lyrical meaning. With this in mind, I find that I really love the last two tracks of this album,.

Once we get to the final track, “Blue Room”, as the lyrics state, “we’re already half-way home”. There is a bright optimism about this track, musically as well as lyrically.

Believe it or not, I really did pay attention to the lyrics this time. It definitely feels like they’re using biblical imagery to build the story of a voyage. There’s a lot that I couldn’t quite catch, but there was enough in there to paint very vivid images in the mind’s eye of travels undertaken and journeys made. Perhaps the nautical imagery I kept feeling was alluding to the ark after the flood? Perhaps its a ship setting forth for new horizons at the dawn of civilization? Somehow it feels like this is the story of a journey through the millennia, crossing though the darkness into the light.

The album itself, taken as a whole, absolutely feels like a journey; with album opener “No Salt” having the darkest, most discordant notes, and this final track having the most bright and melodious.

Musically, that same tortured phrases and rhythms from “No Fission” and “Atomised” return once again in “Blue Room”, but this time, they are even more harmonious and self assured than they were in “Atomised”. The minor chord progressions, already gentled in “Atomised” are mostly gone, replaced now and again with movements through major scales, their sourness turned sweet. The uncomfortable darkness that was present in “No Fission” is well and truly gone as the album comes to a close. The harmonizing from “Aught Can Wait” also returns in the chorus and in the coda, bringing the listener’s journey full circle.

There are a lot of surprises hidden in the layers of sound, you could even call them “Easter eggs”, that refer back and forth to the other tracks on the album. These gems help to make the album succeed beautifully as a fully-realized, complete piece of work that will surprise you on repeat listens.

I think, one of the things that I really enjoyed about the album was that it hints at a story, allowing the listener to create their own narrative. The lyrics are such that you can focus on them to bring your story into sharper focus, or simply allow them to wash over you and instead follow their melody in a vague race across the waters.

An Archaea is one of those rare albums that encourages you to follow the storytelling from start to finish, without jumping from one track to the next. Each track showcases its own charms while still being a part of the overall flow. The songwriting is strong and the band is tight, so much so that there is never a desire to skip any of the tracks. It rewards you for listening, and makes the journey feel like time well spent.

You can order the album from Bandcamp or from the band’s page itself here: https://www.apof.co.uk/merchandise.

What do you think? Had you heard of Amusement Parks of Fire before? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear from you!

Have I missed anything? Are there any songs I should have included in our playlist? Drop me a line in the comment section below! Remember to sunscribe so that you don’t miss our next monthly (ish) post (We’ll never bother you more than once a month). PLUS! subscribers get a discount on any purchase made from us.

[EDIT] An Archaea was officially released on June 25th, so I have updated the playlist below to include the full album. I have also added a few tracks from a couple of their other recent releases so you can check them out as well! Enjoy!

In the meantime, check out the video for “Boom Vang” to whet your whistle while you wait:

 

 

Amusement Parks on Fire band photo by Carla Mundy, courtesy of Kool Things Promotions

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