“Take my hand and burn with me,” Thom Kehr intones on “Maelstrom“, the opening track on Columbia, SC band Hold Fire‘s first full length album, Bruised Fruit, and it’s not an empty invitation. Coming in at around an hour of playing time, the 13 tracks on Fruit take the listener through a conceptual journey, both lyrically and musically. As Kehr says about the release, “I will say that this album has a concept. It has a manifesto that says, ‘Hey, if you feel this way, maybe this is why’. It immediately goes to obsession, compulsion, desperation. Song by song it comes up from the bottom.” The singer’s idiosyncratic vocals took a while to sit comfortably with me – he has a Bon Iver-esque croon that moves from radio friendly to wailing in a heartbeat, but once I got on board, I appreciated the tenacity of his range and let the vocals wrap me up in the music itself. Nolan Ross (bass), Craig Layton (keys, guitar) and Michael Malloy (drums) handle that part and its an unapologetic modern prog rock sound they are going for, bringing together elements of Modest Mouse, Sigur Ros or maybe even Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor into the mix. The band doesn’t mind the “indie rock” tag and it suits them well, but I guess “post rock” would probably be the best descriptor for the uninitiated; most of the band members were classically trained and it shows in the sometimes dense compositions.
Most songs like the aforementioned “Maelstrom”, start out slow and rally into epic post rock with catchy vocals, slow grooves dissolving into distortion sometimes, other times into gentle vocal moments. Kehr explains the dynamics, “We are telling a story and it has some really dark valleys and some really lovely skies” and the band often matches his resolve like on the oddly poppy “Cokelogic” with its heavy atmosphere of grand keys driving the effects-laden lead vocals before ending with epic gang vocals at the end, hammering the chorus home. You can tell the band invested a lot of thought into their studio time, with the layered vocals that drive the serene “Home” and the dark pop Modest Mouse-like perfection of “Foul Weather Friend” or “Stay Ugly” showing off their musical prowess. If you like the Flaming Lips, then “Start a War” will scratch that itch, as well, but the band has its own unique take on all the places post rock hasn’t quite roamed yet. The album ends on a completely appropriate grand two-part song cycle and the band keeps your attention for the hour, which is hard as hell to do.
The band is looking to do some touring regionally and have a sound that could find an audience in many different subsets of listeners. But Kehr says Hold Fire is fighting the battles, not the war. “It seems like we aren’t winning everyone over but the ones who are in seem especially emotionally invested. I’ll take that any day. Deeper not wider”. Count me in as one of the deep ones. You can stream and buy a Bruised Fruit CD over at Bandcamp or stream it at the usual places like Spotify or Apple.
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.