Smoke or Fire - This Sinking Ship
Early on when Tim and I were sowing the early seeds of friendship, we were discussing which bands our opinions met on, and Smoke or Fire (along with the Sainte Catherines) were a band where I think I less than eloquently explained how I felt in reality about them in favor of making a bolder but more misconstrued statement about how I was not a huge fan of this record. Tim sort of took that and ran with it, and the meme that began afterwards was that I harbored a secret and severe dislike of Smoke or Fire. This isn’t true. My sophomore year of college, I listened to their debut LP, Above the City pretty consistently (in fact, it landed at number 19 on my favorite records of 2005, just ahead of Bear Vs. Shark’s Terrorhawk, an album that’s stood the test of time a bit better), but This Sinking Ship, while not necessarily a bad record (especially compared to similar-era sophomore records from Fat Wreck artists like the Loved Ones’ second LP), just always struck a weirdly sour note with me.
My major qualms with this album are in the song structure (and length) and the production. The drums are grossly overproduced, especially the kick drum, which sounds like it was directly transplanted from a Pantera record (what works for Vinnie Paul is not universally transferrable). It’s also really top-heavy. There aren’t really even any secret gems on the B-side (okay, maybe “Cars”). After “Little Bohemia” (which is little more than a showcase for one of the most cringeworthy choruses in recent punk rock), it’s pretty much a straight downward spiral. There are plenty of bright notes early on. The opening three tracks are totally solid, and “Irish Handcuffs” is one of their best. The whole thing just seems overthought in comparison to the stripped-down fury of Above the City, which played fast and loose through 11 tracks like it was nothing, whereas This Sinking Ship clocks in at a full 10 minutes longer with one additional track. The “aggressive” tracks on this record seem forced like fast Rise Against tracks do nowadays (“Breadwinner”, “Life Imitating Art”) and degrade into limp choruses. There’s still a solid 5 song EP that could be salvaged out of this, but it serves well as an evolutionary and educational point for Smoke or Fire, who rebounded some with last year’s much improved The Speakeasy.