Fat Wreck Chords – Release Date: 11/9/10
The Speakeasy is Smoke Or Fire’s definitive statement. It incorporates the catchy choruses of Above the City and the pop sensibilities of This Sinking Ship, but also adds advanced songwriting and a newfound sense of confidence. “Integrity” opens the record with an ascending melody and a critique of the American media before segueing into “Monsters”, which decries white-collar crime and exhibits an epic, anthem-like hook. “Neon Light” is the first single and it’s one of the more rock-oriented tracks on the disc. It features acoustic guitar, a distinctive beat and an unforgettable chorus. “Everything Falls Apart” is a peppy punk number that provides some seriously badass guitar solos. “Shotgun” might just be the top song on the album, due to both its stirring lyrics concerning a friend struggling with addiction and its powerful vocal delivery. “Utah” closes the album on a positive note, as it offers an uplifting message regarding the importance of individuality. Often compared to Hot Water Music and Avail, Smoke Or Fire proudly carries the torch that was lit by said bands. The Speakeasy is a complete work and will be remembered for years to come. It’s also unquestionably one of the best records of 2010.
Red Scare - Release Date: 3/16/10
Punk rock front-men vacationing from their bands and taking the solo, folk/acoustic route is all the rage these days. In many ways, it’s not unlike the ska/punk craze of the mid-‘90s in that everybody’s doing it, there’s not a lot of originality and its lifespan is destine to be brief. However, just like quality ska/punk, when the punk singer/songwriter thing is done well it’s damn good. Such is the case on this split record, entitled Wasted Potential. Sharing the limelight on this release are Lawrence Arms singer/bassist Brendan Kelly and Smoke or Fire singer/guitarist Joe McMahon. Brendan’s songs are up first and they primarily consist of stripped-down, lo-fi versions Lawrence Arms classis, such as “Like a Record Player” and “Quincentuple Your Money”. He also covers what is arguably Jawbreaker’s best song, “Kiss the Bottle”, providing more of a somber mood than the original and doing so with ample success. His half was recorded by Justin Yates, with the intent of achieving a raw and uncut kind of feel, which serves to magnify the true heart and guts of each song. It’s a unique and effective approach, and quite representative of what a lot of Brendan’s recent solo shows have been like. Joe’s contributions though are slightly more produced and offer a bit more passion and gruffness in the vocal department. Highlights included renditions of Smoke or Fire hits like “Filter” and “Little Bohemia”, yet the real gem is “What Separates Us All”. It decries America’s widening economic divide with heart-wrenching authenticity and surefire hooks. Fans of either The Lawrence Arms or Smoke or Fire should try this out to gain a new and appealing perspective on songs they’ve grown to love from the aforementioned bands. Followers of the folk/punk movement ought to sample it as well, because it’s one of the best examples of this hip and fashionable format.