FiRES WERE SHOT: Pieces of the White Sun
It's Only Me Records

FiRES WERE SHOT puts some distance between itself and other ambient-drone practitioners in a number of ways. First of all, Austin, Texas-based John Wilkins and Clay Walton create their music using acoustic guitars and effects pedals, which results in a warm and crystalline sound that always feels natural—the omnipresent pluck and strum of the guitar serves as a constant reminder that humans hands are generating the sounds as opposed to machines. That aura of down-home intimacy is also abetted by the fact that the entire fifty-two-minute collection (available on cassette and as a digital download) was recorded using four-track cassette.

Even more critically, the duo's fifth album, Pieces of the White Sun, encompasses a wider range of styles than one only. So while the opener “Before That Time” might slot itself within the ambient-drone genre, other pieces nudge the FiRES WERE SHOT sound into other areas. In that regard, the listener encounters pastoral folk settings lightly dusted with textural effects (“Scattered in the River,” “Now Showing an Orange Setting”) and the rustic folk-blues of “In the Heavens Meadow.” Often wistful and pretty, the eleven songs range between joy and sadness, with the slow-burn melancholy of “When Friday Won” a stark contrast to the bright, fingerpicking uplift of “Ain't That Life.” All of the group's strengths come home to roost in “Never To Return,” a short but nonetheless affecting blend of lilting folk patterns and atmospheres, and during the hypnotic, psych-dronescape “McElligot's Pool.”

Wilkins and Walton aren't guitar virtuosos necessarily, but, conceptually speaking, FiRES WERE SHOT isn't about virtuoso display. Instead, the two focus on using the instrument in painterly fashion by weaving patterns, loops, and delay treatments into dense, oft-spellbinding reveries. At the same time, the two have certainly developed the requisite skills to make each piece's intended effect a reality. Regardless of whether one comes away from the album thinking of Wilkins and Walton as ambient guitar players or as folk-electronic songsmiths, Pieces of the White Sun itself impresses as a thoroughly satisfying and engrossing outing by the duo.

October 2013