Sound — 8
"The Golden Hour" is a departure from Firewater's traditional sound. Tod Ashley's style of composition is still evident, however it has been heavily influenced by the many artists he collaborated with for this album. The first major difference is the percussion, and note percussion; drums have not been entirely omitted but certainly folk, traditional, and indigenous percussive instruments have featured almost exclusively. It is one of the major differences from Firewater's previous music and it gives it a much softer quality (musically); much of this album sounds as if it was recorded around a camp fire in the middle-east, which shows that Ashley has achieved his goal. (Also a large part of it was.) The change in sound is also apparent in the guitar lines which, (somewhat unusually for Firewater) consist of an acoustic guitar and a guitar with a high-presence hard-hitting guitar which gives the songs a lot of their "oomph", but they aren't gain-y enough to fuzz (they aren't distorted, just pinchy enough to grab your attention. The addition of what seems to be a mandolin or another acoustic instrument that is played tremolo helps contribute to the overwhelming fullness of this album. An inescapable fact about "The Golden Hour" is that it is musically very full; there is a lot going on but it isn't overwhelmingly busy, there is nothing empty about it's sound. For people out there who prefer a little more wallop from the drums it might sound a little weak-willed. The bass-lines seem to suffer a little; the creative riffs of Firewater's earlier music don't seem to be quite as present here, in fact several songs lack bass. The album starts with Borneo, a song which DOES have a good, strong beat. It is an energetic start to the album, and the guitar which is a little distorted (when I examine the lyrics I will explain the hypocrisy with the rest of the album). Ashley's wails of "I-I-I-I-I'm getting out of here!" In the chorus are powerful and their raw loudness gives this song some of it's punch. "This Is My Life" really showcases the more foreign elements, it opens with a voice saying something quickly in an eastern language, before a screaming guitar line that sounds very eastern and percussion and various other traditional instruments come in that give the song a very busy feel. This is a personal favourite, the bitterness of Ashley's voice (often described as something like "spitting out razors that cut your mouth on their exit just to spite you") really gives the music it's feel; as it does in much of the album. The next song has an almost "funky" guitar line that is very choppy, more clicky folk drums and some nice beats. The addition of the brass in this song sets it apart from the first two songs, and gives us a little reminder that this is in fact Tod Ashley, even though the rest of the song is totally different to his earlier work. "Six Fourty Five" has a fairly simple guitar line and more brass. This one has a little bit of a ballad-y feel, and feels a little husher than the rest. Many of the percussive elements present in the rest of the album are lacking here, which is a refreshing (but not necessarily necessary) break from the rest of the songs. Immediately the next song, "A Place Not So Unkind" creates a dark, tense atmosphere, the best description I can give to this song is like a thunderhead fit to burst. "Paradise" is another song that feels right out of the east (partly because it is). The drums this time are quite deep and hollow, and the guitar plays a very soft accompaniment. The pre-chorus is a perfect build up to the chorus, the unexpected cadence at the end of which helps (along with the tempo) to give the song the feeling of a sombre tango. The chorus is very elating and the "oooooh"s help to contribute to the unique atmosphere. "Bhangra Bros" is an instrumental piece that makes good use of some of the recordings Ashley made on his travels. I have little to say about this as it is an instrumental (and a good one) and not a song; think of it as a nice break before being plunged back into your journey through "The Golden Hour". "Electric City" plunges us back into the tense dark atmosphere. The beat here is quite eastern, with particular off-beats that define it well. It is the track that sounds the most heavily manufactured on the album. The next song begins with a female voice asking "What do you think of our country?" and, judging by the song that follows, the answer is "Not much." It is an angry sounding song, with harsh chords that play staccato notes on the beat, with a large brass-and-cymbal ensemble that joins at the end of a phrase. The chorus is loud and busy and really gives the song the feeling of a circus - especially the brass solo about 2/3 of the way through. It's a track to look out for, one of the best and the most stand-out on the album. Already gone is another good song, it follows the pattern of a lot of the rest of the album; choppy guitar and drums, nothing particularly new here; I think this is the album's only fault, a lot of the songs get a little repetitive after a while. Feels like the end of the world has the sort of atmosphere that earlier songs such as "Fell Off The Face Of The Earth" or possibly even a more bitter "7th Avenue Static" had. Except it still maintains the easten-folk sound that the whole album carries. Weird to be back is a great way to close the album, another track that sounds "heavily manafactured". This is the closest to Firewater's old stuff but still manages to fit in and keep the same feel as the rest of the album. It's a fun song that totally encapsulates the feeling of returning home after a strange journey. And, finally, the encore. "Three Legged Dog" is a simple yet genius song. It works well, without a lot of the frills the rest of the album had and it is a brilliant travelling song. It is a great way to end, however, it does not sum up the rest of the album; it almost brings the listener back to where the album started, but with a less angry, more light-hearted feeling. The whole album gives an impression of a journey, and manages to impress despite it's flaws. If you'd rather a shorter summary, then I'd say: the album is very eastern-sounding. It is not "heavy", and can be very relaxing. It is a little short on bass. Towards the end a couple of the songs get a little repetitive.
Lyrics — 9
Tod Ashley is one of the greatest lyricists of our time. He is cynical, bitter, mocking, ironic, and simultaneously philosophical, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. The lyrics of the album truly give a sense of the journey that Ashley made to create the album, from Borneo's "Well I ain't gonna live in your world no more" and "got a monkey for a president" detailing his flight from America and his hatred of the George Bush administration; it gives an insight into his desire to "see exactly who we were bombing". The bitter sentiments of "This Is My Life", "I lost my home, and I lost my wife" a stark statement describing the background to his predicament. These two songs are about America, and his time here, so, understandably, they sound more "American" than the rest of the album. There is less folk influence and it makes the change in the sense-of-place much more stark. The rest of the album's lyrics all fit well to the songs and all contain deep meaning. There are so many great lines, but if you are familiar with Ashley's work you will know that lyrically, he never fails to disappoint, and if you don't, it is honestly better that you hear him shout them angrily than read me quoting them otherwise you will not feel the full effect of his words. I am going to give the lyrics a 9 out of 10. Please trust me on this decision, as I am sure you will understand if you listen to the album yourself.
Overall Impression — 9
This album is a good album to listen to. It deserves a place on people's shelves. It is world music, and should find appeal with people that listen to a lot of genres of music as long as you are open to something different. It goes best with the blog he maintained on his travels which is an interesting read, and really helps you understand the album. Overall this album has a few flaws; it is far from being the perfect album, but it is a good album, and easy to listen to - it is far less far than most other albums.. It is well worth the 10 or whatever to buy it and if I lost my copy (no-one's heard of Firewater here so it wouldn't get stolen) I would certainly purchase another.