Artist: the Burning Hell

Album: People

Canada’s the Burning Hell are still described on their own website as “the alter-ego of ukelele player and all-purpose nerd Matthias Kom”, which made sense as of their 2011 masterpiece Flux Capacitor. As of 2013’s louder, more rock-centric People, it Burning_Hell_Peoplemakes better sense to refer to Kom as a guitarist, but the essential idea holds true: as pleasant as the old-time swing of their sax and clarinet is (where still applicable), the Burning Hell‘s songs revolve around the words, and Kom’s dry, speaking-melodically tenor voice. He tells stories: some autobiographical, some fictional. But even if we can largely tell which are which, it would be unfair to impose such structure on him.

Grown-Ups, a slow-burning rocker that brings Neil Young’s Americana out towards Pearl Jam or Live without the teensiest hint of melodrama, serenely opens the album by recalling “You were a Nazi hunter/ I was a Cockney punter/ We used to meet on some rainy English street/ You’d be looking sharp, I’d be in a dirty old jumper/ Despite our different social stations/ Despite my lack of vocation/ I’d find you some piece of crucial information”. This is, of course, entirely of a piece with “We used to take photographs in graveyards/ back when we were little goth idiots/ We used to smoke hash before math class/ Everybody did it”. What it’s not of a piece with is “I got the invitation, it’s on the fridge/ beside the picture of you and your kids”. So the song becomes a polite ducking out, rejecting the invitation because “By the time you read this” … an exciting prologue that is never expanded on. By the time you read this, something will have happened: fill in your guesses here. Just don’t make it ordinary: don’t blemish the memory.

Amateur Rappers is virtually pop-punk, barreling forward eagerly, with one sinister clarinet-led detour into klezmer. Kom’s delivery remains calm, though, stand-up comedy edging at times towards white-guy rap flow (with clarinetist Ariel Sharrat adding sing-song melody for the chorus). It’s about knock-knock jokes, founding a really fun religious cult, finding happiness the wake of apocalypse, theburninghelland how “parenting is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Holidaymakers, jaunty and pre-rock and swingin’ with woodwinds and rhythm guitar, is a 1st-person-plural narrative in which our heroes have too much fun noticing the world’s little sensory details to get out of the way of an onrushing train, so then they must plead to St. Peter for a chance at reincarnation because they don’t want to be dead and have to miss everything. Wallflowers, acoustic early rock’n’roll (American Graffiti soundtrack plus clarinet and female “ahh-ahh-ahh” backing), is an intentionally awkward/ goofy flirting song, but still again sweetly caught up in details: “I like the way your pants are the same colours/ as the colours of the band around your hat … That sparkle in your eye shines/ like a shiny diamond in a diamond ring/ and like a crow, don’t you know/ I’m helpless around shiny things”.

Realists and Industrialists, although pleasant as band performances by Burning Hell, represent the downside of Matthias Kom’s slackness, their stories shrugging their way towards generic c’est-la-vie morals like “It is what it is”, “You are what you are and I am what I am”, and “It takes all kinds of people to make a world”. Barbarians is much more fun, a 7-minute narrative where the band speeds up and slows down, rocks fiery and backs into eerie xylophone, shows a sense of guitar drama that often reminds me the Doors’ the End (but at other times of something much more playful), and invents a myth about Vikings, magic trees, Loki, and how destiny likes to play mythical heroes for suckers.

People isn’t necessarily about *real* people, but then, it generally is. It’s just about us when we’re off-duty. And it bops along with just the right amount of energy that you can dance to it like a person of any age, whether you want to essay a Charleston, a Twist, a very gentle mosh, or me and my 7-year-old twisting my raincoat into a hundred unlikely shapes as our shared partner-dance prop. Which is an act of parenting, thus scoundrelhood. But I think Kom would get it anyway.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2013 page!

(Amazon does not carry the Burning Hell‘s People, but you can buy it at Burning Hell’s bandcamp site, and the band themselves keep 80% of the money you spend there, because are lovely that way.)