PACIFIC OCEAN FIRE’S sporadic release schedule of EPS eluded this writer until their recent split 10” EP with Don’s Mobile Barbers, but their contributions to that release suggested we had further roots-related rearguard action from the UK on our hands once again.
Their debut album proper, ‘From The Station To The Church We Are Under The Same Stars’ makes it abundantly clear that this isn’t a flash in the pan either. The album’s enigmatic title appears to derive from the (actually rather prosaic) fact that the sessions took place in a room above a station and inside a church, but it seems POF are hugely inspired by such unlikely surroundings judging by the magnificent results contained within.
An apparently democratic quartet nominally led by singer/ guitarist Jon Bennett, POF are quickly becoming known as purveyors of superb, roots and alt-folk-related pop who have begun to stake their claim by opening for the likes of Jesse Malin, Damien Jurado, 50 Ft Wave and Clem Snide, but some of these auspicious names will have to watch themselves if POF can retain the seam of form they mine here, because ‘From The Station…’ is gripping stuff from end to end.
Precious little here is less than essential. Opener ‘Summer Engines’ gets us underway in style with cut-price Spector-style timpani, lustily-struck guitars and sweet harmonies a la Teenage Fanclub. It’s great, but not wholly representative of what follows, except for maybe tracks like the upbeat, but quixotic ‘When The Preacher Snaps His Fingers’ which is epic in a Love-meet-I-Am-Kloot kinda way with its’ bells, descriptive guitars and rising Mariachi trumpets.
But then, being ‘representative’ of any given sound appears to be pretty low on the POF totem pole, but when the eclecticism is this deliciously enjoyable, you’d be churlish to complain. Songs like ‘Honky Tonkin’ Troubled Times’ and ‘An Arrow For Yr Heart’ may have Bill Callahan-esque titles, but – with its’ superb, spectral slide guitar from Ross Voce and drifting harmonica – the former sounds like Thin White Rope circa ‘The Ruby Sea’ transplanted to an obscure UK seaside town – while ‘An Arrow For Yr Heart’ initially comes on all weird and lo-fi with banjo and acoustic guitar, but gradually morphs into the kind of guitar-wielding meltdown that the Super Furries or The Flaming Lips would condone. Or, as Bennett suggests: “I got a Jimmy Webb LP and an arrow for your heart.” Quite.
Elsewhere, POF keep their options open with devastatingly impressive results. ‘Death On Yr Birthday’ is an unfeasibly sad lilt, with an oblivion-bound Bennett mournfully intoning “Remember me for the sunlight I was/ remember me out in the rain with the dogs/ remember me laughing at this fuckin’ curse/ remember me not my tired body first.” It’s incredibly sad, but the buoyancy of the music acts as your safety net as the tears fall. Just to up the enigma factor even further, the ensuing ‘Yr Name On A Tombstone Blues’ seems to be written from either the point of view of Bennett’s ghost or a Bennett who DIDN’T die and has come back as if from the dead. “I went to the library to see what had become of me/ I read about how I fell out with this heart of mine” he sings before the silvery harmonies and shivering rush of the music kick in.
Brilliantly, the standard is maintained right through to the death, if you pardon the pun. Indeed, comprising the lovelorn gem that is ‘Ten Years Is A Long Time’, the rich, enigmatic ‘Roadsigns’ and the spooked and hypnotic ‘Driving At Night’ (which is simply steeped in loss and murderous intent), the album’s home strait is arguably the album’s strongest tract of all. But then, this is one of those rare occasions where a record is so strong you’re pretty much spoiled for choice in terms of trying to single our favourites.
“There’s a rainbow somewhere, by a hole in the ground/ but the pot of gold is nowhere to be found,” moans Bennett on ‘Driving At Night’. Well, he may have missed out fiscally, but in purely creative terms, Pacific Ocean Fire have masterminded a daring escape, dribbling an Aladdin’s Cave of riches in their wake for us to marvel at. Long may they remain the sharp-eyed, genre-straddling magpies they show themselves to be here.