Set Fire to Flames


Monday, February 16, 2015
Set Fire to Flames – “”Côte d’Abrahams Roomtone/’What’s Going On?…’ (From Lips of Lying Dying Wonder Body #3)” from Sings Reign Rebuilder (2001 Alien8/FatCat/P-Vine)


Canada has been putting its own unique stamp on punk rock since the beginning. Evidence of this can be seen in the large Canadian presence on the Better Youth Organization’s Something to Believe In compilation from 1984, the incredible roster of the at once beautiful and brutal Canadian record label Great American Steak Religion in the 1990s, everything Chris Colohan set his hands to ever, and, most germaine to this post, the aesthetic of Constellation Records and its associated acts.

Interestingly enough, Set Fire to Flames are not now and have never been a Constellation act, but because they share so many members with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Le Fly Pan Am, among others, it’s an easy enough comparison. This singularly Canadian approach to punk rock was most punk in its rejection of traditional punk instrumentation. Yes, Set Fire to Flames uses guitars and drums, but most notable is the way in which they (and acts like them) make use of instruments that may be more at home in a chamber orchestra, such as the bass clarinet, French horn, and cello, as well as less traditional instruments such as tapes, “faulty electronics,” saw, and music box.

Not to mention field recordings. Apparently this album was recorded in a Canadian punk house known as 15 Ontario, and, as the house was doomed for the wrecking ball, its idiosyncratic sounds became a living part of the recording — indeed, emergency sirens can be heard at the beginning of this track.

The most notable field recording is an interview at the end of the track, and here the Shuffler butts up against another mystery. The voice in the interview will be familiar to fans of GY!BE — his voice can be heard at the beginning of “Providence” and “BBF3.” The latter is kind of mind-blowing, because what I didn’t know until just now was that a) BBF3 stands for Blaise Bailey Finnegan III, presumably the name of the speaker b) Blaise Bailey Finnegan III is paraphrasing/plagiarizing lyrics to the (kind of rad) Iron Maiden song “Virus,” and c) the lead singer for Iron Maiden was named Blaze Bailey.

I guess the mystery in all of this is who this man is and why he is so often sampled. While I can only speculate as to both, he does seem to be someone who is on the fringes of, if not sanity, definitely of society, something of a self-styled doomsday prophet. His dark words bring even more depth to the “it’s-a-new-millenium-and-we’re-all-super

-fucked-let’s-make-something-beautiful” aesthetic of bands like Godspeed and Set Fire to Flames. This song is almost not even a song, but, like much of this album, the sound of the moments either just before or just after the end.

It’s quite an accomplishment, a sort of “look what we have wrought/look, here is hope” dichotomy. Musically, it’s a lot of noises and ambient sounds, hardly danceable, but full of ominous dread and promise.