Punknews.org
Smoke or Fire - The Speakeasy (Cover Artwork)

Smoke or Fire

Smoke or Fire: The SpeakeasyThe Speakeasy (2010)
Fat Wreck Chords

Reviewer Rating: 4.5
User Rating:


Contributed by: sickboiChris
(others by this writer | submit your own)

It's been an interesting ride for Smoke or Fire. A band that packed up and moved from the comforts of home in Boston, Mass., to take a chance at dedicating their lives to playing music full-time by moving south to Richmond, Va., in the hopes of cheaper rent, new exposure and new experiences. Talk ab.
iTunes StoreAmazon


It's been an interesting ride for Smoke or Fire. A band that packed up and moved from the comforts of home in Boston, Mass., to take a chance at dedicating their lives to playing music full-time by moving south to Richmond, Va., in the hopes of cheaper rent, new exposure and new experiences. Talk about culture shock, huh? The adjustment from New England's refusal to properly pronounce the "r" sound to the almost-intolerable southern drawl is enough to drive anyone insane. Upon arriving in Richmond, and ultimately changing their moniker from "Jericho" to "Smoke or Fire," the band immediately captured the attention of Fat Wreck Chords. At the time, the label was on a Richmond signing spree, scooping up native bands Avail and Strike Anywhere. Two full-lengths and several years later, the band has released The Speakeasy, which musically, may be the band's culmination of expression. Two new members have arrived, solidifying an all-star rhythm section. Bassist Gwomper (Avail) joined the band for live gigs over two years ago, and Ryan Parrish (Darkest Hour) joined for this recording to handle drumming duties.

The Speakeasy is the group's second recording with production/engineering icon Matt Allison. Known for his work with pop-punk bands, Allison can be credited with employing much of the harmony Smoke or Fire has fused into their sound over the past two records. However, for The Speakeasy, Allison explained the approach was "more of a raw angle, so it didn't sound all cleaned up and perfect." The album's opening track, "Integrity" captures this idea intricately. After a short, melodic introduction, guitarist/vocalist Joe McMahan launches right into a thunderous transition, screaming the line "When did the news become entertainment?" This sets the tone for the entire record, which throughout McMahan cleverly fuses ideas, feelings and frustrations about the deceptions in our modern world.

But make no mistake, this isn't simple sloganeering. For example, "1968" tackles the correlation between racially charged events of that turbulent year and how they still impact us today. In one of the best lines McMahan has ever written, he states "And still Coretta led his people through the Memphis streets, in spite of the nightmare that was made out of a dream." In "Monsters Among Us," the focus is a little more standard and straightforward--corporate greed and deception; however, McMahan's amazingly fast vocalization combined with guitarist Jeremy Cochran's blazing riffs lend the track a more anthemic quality, similar to the band's sound on Above the City.

"Neon Lights" shines (no pun intended) as the standout track of the record. The blended acoustic verses and varying tempos create a unique structure and mood within the song. The album's title track, which also appeared on the band's previously released 7", Prehistoric Knife Fight, is a bouncier and energetic song which, again, will likely appeal to fans of the band's prior records.

So where does The Speakeasy rank in terms of Smoke or Fire's catalog? That depends on your appreciation of growth and expansion within artists. Although it doesn't have the same instant sing-along-ability as This Sinking Ship, lyrically and musically, it's the pinnacle of the band's career. They've taken their time to craft a very honest and memorable album.


 
People who liked this also liked:
The Flatliners - CavalcadeNone More Black - IconsThe Menzingers - Chamberlain WaitsThe Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!The Gaslight Anthem - American SlangIron Chic - Not Like ThisDear Landlord - Dream HomesThe Gaslight Anthem - The '59 SoundThe Lawrence Arms - The Greatest Story Ever ToldAgainst Me! - Searching For A Former Clarity

Please login or register to post comments.What are the benefits of having a Punknews.org account?
  • Share your opinion by posting comments on the stories that interest you
  • Rate music and bands and help shape the weekly top ten
  • Let Punknews.org use your ratings to help you find bands and albums you might like
  • Customize features on the site to get the news the way you want.
Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
disneymike (January 25, 2011)

I never really got into Smoke or Fire or enjoyed their early records, but i gave Speakeasy a try and absolutly loved it. From start to finish a great record. One of their best. Side b is my favorite of the record.

OfCourse (December 7, 2010)

Just read a pretty rad interview and giveaway with Joe McMahon about the new CD,,,,

"Mike is a pretty good boss to have. He lets you do what you want. He lets you control your band. The best thing about him is you donít ever have to wonder what heís thinking. Heíll be brutally honest about loving or hating a song, a record, or any decisions your band is making. He wonít tell you what to do, but heís always going to let you know how he feels about it."

http://www.theinertia.com/music-art/interview-giveaway-sm oke-or-fire/

Filbunke (November 24, 2010)

They can't seem to top "Above the City". I have only listened to this a few times but for me it seems to be on par with "Sinking Ship" wich was a big step down from "Above the City".

It's not like it's awful or anything. It's pretty decent. Just seems to be lacking something.

victim (November 21, 2010)

Also, I know its just me but I wish Joe would stop singing about integrity, ethics, honesty, etc

Its actually not overbearingly preachy..its probably just that I've read too much Vladimir Ilyich

victim (November 21, 2010)

Not catchy or memorable? Wow, I was thinking somewhat the opposite that the catchy parts smooth over the awkward moments that would stand out way more if it didn't immediately transition to something infectious.

I still think Above the City is better (and not coincidentally my favorite tracks on this sound like they could've been on that record -- yes, the gritty and acousitc parts but also pretty catchy at the same time) and/or When the Battery Dies, but mainly because I'm not so high on overtly political lyrics. But its not a dealbreaker like on some other albums (Election Night from Broadway Calls springs to mind..song pisses me off even though I mostly got over it)

Overall I'm pretty pleased with it because I thought it would veer more toward Sinking Ship which was good, but I prefer songs their songs like the first two from that album personally

Don't know if its Top 5 or not, I think my viewpoint is colored by wanting another Above the City (and like I said, they flirt with that in some places)

MN_DrNick (November 13, 2010)

This album is quite excellent.

maverick (November 12, 2010)

"This album is kind of a bummer for its lack of hooks. SoF, for all its faults, has always been saved by its catchy chorus and guitar leads, and this album is kind of devoid of both those things. I still like the, but I feel like this band should be better than they are."

Spot-on assessment. I like this record but I wish I could like it more. It's just lacking those elements.

-Scott

woodprop (November 11, 2010)

Solid album, probably my favourite one from them.

On a side note anyone else think the intro to Porch Wine sounds a lot like I Am Everything I Am Not?

Sickboi (November 10, 2010)

I forgot to mention in my review:

"Utah" is named after one of the best dudes ever in the city of Chicago named Justin. This kid is an amazing engineer and he's gonna have the name recognition of an Allison, McTernan, Stevenson, etc one of these days.

-chris

Jelone (November 10, 2010)

Nate - Go listen to "Sleepwalking" again. And again. AND AGAIN.

TimfromSanFrancisco (November 10, 2010)

Agreed. This shit is awesome.

levi-dolphin (November 10, 2010)

Maybe their best shit yet!!! still gotta spin it more but great shit!!!

mrdogg45 (November 10, 2010)

This album is kind of a bummer for its lack of hooks. SoF, for all its faults, has always been saved by its catchy chorus and guitar leads, and this album is kind of devoid of both those things. I still like the, but I feel like this band should be better than they are.

harekrishna (November 9, 2010)

Don't listen to the naysayers. This album rocks. Joe's voice really comes through on this one. Berkshire grown punks rule!

victimofadriveby (November 9, 2010)

Definitely their best most complete record yet. Smoke Or Fire finally found their sound on this effort. As much as I like their previous stuff (with Worker's Union EP being their best previous effort) there was always something missing from them. They finally dumped choppy timing in favor of more free flowing songs. A solid overall album with it only flaws being the sound production and not being their catchiest effort. Best song by far on this record is "Shotgun." Short but sweet folks

TheUltraHumanite (November 9, 2010)

Too many lyrical douchechills, a trend that started way back on the first track of "This Sinking Ship".

The best song on this record only left me thinking about how using "such a disgrace" as a rhyme should be banned.

Blackjaw_ (November 9, 2010)

Also, why does "Utah" have the lyrics about a shotgun, instead of "Shotgun"?

Blackjaw_ (November 9, 2010)

I can't decide how I'd rank it among their releases, but I do know it's a good album. I find it strange though how the first 4 songs all have this rapid yet not aggressive vocal delivery. It sounds strange to me, I don't like it to be honest. There are a couple good songs and good moments within the less good songs on the first half, but I like the second half a whole lot better. "Porch Wine" is my favourite, probably followed by "Expatriate".

mikeinflames (November 9, 2010)

Solid album. But I like their other stuff better. I have to agree with StraightToHell, the more I listen to it the less impressed I am.

StraightToHell82 (November 9, 2010)

When I got this album about 2 weeks ago, I was ecstatic. All of Smoke Or Fire's previous material is golden, and as they went on I believed each release to be better and better (minus the 7-inch).

The first few listens of this, I loved it... but it was only while listening to it. Every time the last song ended, I could barely remember any of it. And with each listen after that, my liking of it just went down and down and down.

In regards to the album opener, "Integrity", the reviewer wrote "This sets the tone for the entire record". To me, that is the furthest thing from the truth. How I feel, is that "Integrity" tricks you into thinking the record will sound a certain way... much like "State Of The Union" on Siren Song...." does. I don't think any other track on The Speakeasy is comparable to "Integrity".

"So where does The Speakeasy rank in terms of Smoke or Fireís catalog? That depends on your appreciation of growth and expansion within artists."
No. I, honestly, do not see growth. A good example of "growth and expansion" of a band would be, say, None More Black. Listening to their demos, and in order each full-length and EP up to Icons, THAT is growth and expansion.
After dozens of listens now, I would best sum up The Speakeasy as a complete rehashing of what they've done in the past, but careless.

There are dozens of albums that came out this year that I didn't like; The Brokedowns, Far From Finished, Gaslight Anthem, Sundowner, Vultures United, Weezer, and a large list more... but I wasn't expecting any of those to be anything special anyway.
I was expecting this to be special.

It's not a "bad" album... it's just really disappointing.

Tudor (November 9, 2010)

Been listening to this for about a week, pretty medicore. Few decent tracks, and a few that I find to be actually irratating.

punkcdsampler (November 9, 2010)

I'm listening to this right now. It's in my top 5 for AOTY, and just might win.

damnitsderek (November 9, 2010)

So, so good.

drugmoney (November 9, 2010)

Got this in the mail today, and haven't stopped listening to it. Such a solid album from start to finish.

Enchanted_Steel (November 9, 2010)

I wasn't expecting much from this one to be honest but this is one of the best records I've purchased this year.

kylewagoner (November 9, 2010)

Fat Mike has this thing with signing bands that are just about to get huge and then pushing them to it...or at least that's how it seems to be lately. Then there was Pour Habit...

thesandwiches (November 9, 2010)

record of the year.

bryne (November 9, 2010)

To me, this album is a great mix between the sounds of the band's previous two full-lengths. There's grit and plenty of acoustic guitar like there was on Above The City, and there's also plenty of catchy, melodic punk overtures, which This Sinking Ship had in spades.

Highly recommended.

Exclusive Streams

Newest Reviews

Punknews.org Team

Other Places to Go