Review Summary: Fire stay with me
Leland Palmer is far and away my favorite character in Twin Peaks. He's charismatic, full of charm, classy as a pair of polished cuff links, and quirky in a way nobody else was on the show. Of course, it's all too important to note these personality traits are the products of his unbarring insanity. We're speaking of a man who committed incest, raped, and killed without remorse. These personality "devices" were simply leverages for Leland to disguise himself from mad-hatter serial killer to a weeping and slightly (but understandably) deranged widower. With a wide histrionic grin and a series of raging, spontaneous waltzes, Leland managed to fool everybody in Twin Peaks that he was somebody he wasn't, until of course his house of cards came a tumblin' down when he was found out and died in a pool of his own blood.
I'd like to think Fire! Orchestra's music works in a similar way. Though Exit! certainly isn't capable of raping or killing you (I don't even want to think about what that would entail), it's certainly charismatic, full of charm, classy as a pair of polished cuff links, and quirky in a way few other albums are; but it's also off the wall bat*** insane, at the very same time. Fire! Orchestra lays out a foundation of the loungey, seductive, and atmospheric jazz instrumentals you'd except to hear from at the bar of One-Eyed Jacks, the jukebox of the Double R Diner, or the mysterious floating smoke of the Red Room. The first part of Exit! opens with a hazy, monotone lounge backdrop, while a film noir bass line slowly coo's in a team of vocalists, including Mariam Wallentin, Nadine Byrne, Emil Svanängen, Nicolaï Dunger, and Sofia Jernberg, who slowly derail the entrancing set off and into an unforeseen smoke.
"This is not a tunnel, it's a cage", one of the vocalist confesses, before her windpipes screech out a dolphin-like shrill (similar to that weird, orgasmic mating call Bjork pulls off in some live performances), as the brass band climb up to catch her scale like a fish out of water. Things continue to get progressively weirder from here on out. Shrieks, howls, and bellows of brass jump in and out of the mix, accompanied by a wailing, lunatic noise guitar strumming its way through waves of brass and percussion. Things really get interesting when the vocalists come back in, the mix still drowning in a cluster of jazzy misfit and loose ends, trading off poetic lines before once again confessing the line (but this time yelling it) "this is not a tunnel, it's a cage". A saxophone then takes its place center stage, scraping away excess noise from the brass band, playing a hellish atonal duet with a frantic, coke-injected pianist. Heavy percussion then evaporates these demons to a single cloud of fog. Entering through this fog is a sole vocalist, singing a dreary and haunting verse in a cappella.
"Fire stay with me", she slowly reveals. The fire she pleads for begins to slowly burn its way back into the charred aural remains, guided by a spooky organ hymn lighting the embers below. Stripped percussion trinkets lightly graze the side of drums, and splashes of brass and a psychedelic guitar act like a woozy sedative, slowly rotating the staggering mix into a deep and dark sleep. Dazed and confused in a tranquil coda, the album's second part begins with a sole male vocalist chanting out an eerie a cappella hymn under loads of cathedral reverb, evoking a similar tone to Grizzly Bear's Edward Droste, or Thom Yorke's most tender moments on In Rainbows. Though the fragility of the moment is quick to disappear, as a series of UFO electroacoustic noises abduct the siren in spacey bleep-bloops. It’s an effect that’s similiar to when Dave Bowman enters the romantically decored future world at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, emulating the distant alien noises bouncing off the victorian walls.
We're then brought back down to earth, as a hypnotic foot tappin' groove guides the ship out of obscurity and into an infernal realm of free jazz tribalism. It's a repetitive, utterly mesmerizing trance through what sounds like the sweaty anticipation of a classic 50s car chase scene, scorn and beaten with a gnarled saxophone solo ripping the film to shreds. Its blood boiling, hair rising, goose bumps that unrelentingly build and build for the next eight minutes, before one of the cars run off the side of the road and the chase ends in a feathery a cappella. Unsure of where to go next, a lady vocalist frailly cuts through the silence in a series of irregular operatic patterns, met with a series of even odder incidental instrumentation playing out like improvised serialism. It's the sound of bizarre carnival, evoking the same kind disarray you'd except from John Zorn's Naked City, as a female vocalist yelps on the tightrope the thematic "Fire stay with me!”.
This unsettling, dizzy, atonal nightmare drifts onward until all that's left is the squeak of an out-of-breath saxophonist. Then absolute silence. Every single instrument heard throughout Exit! is given about three seconds to prepare themselves for what's about to happen (a 28-piece orchestra). Someone then opens their mouth, as if to speak, before the words are annihilated by a sprinting onslaught of brass, percussion, woodwind, and maniac vocal cries. It's absolute chaos. A demonic rapture of rippling brass and percussion, the final velocity-suspended climax that's as bat*** and fear-driven as a heroin junkie’s last needle, before the eyes roll back and all that remains is a motionless corpse in a dirty rat-infested gutter. It's not a pretty end, not by any means, but for a record so helplessly lost in its own fire and insanity, you couldn't ask for anything more but a cold and unforgiving end to a flame that burns long after the album ends.