Set Fire to Flames – Sings Reign Rebuilder

Set Fire to Flames
Sings Reign Rebuilder

The cinematic, sweeping sounds of certain members of the post-rock movement were certainly breathtaking and challenging when they first ushered in the era of the semi-orchestral rock band. Earlier works by Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor! – despite being notably influenced by others – were almost revolutionary. However, the nature of the building crescendo style of music has its limitations, and so the aforementioned bands have both gone in different directions in search of new and dynamic sounds within the confines of their style of music. The cynics among us may say that such a shift is impossible, and that all post-rock is condemned to be little more than a constant rehashing of the same idea. Set Fire to Flames are a band that would confound such cynics.

On the face of it, Set Fire to Flames might seem to be nothing more than a GYBE! knock-off band, or at least a side-project. On opening the CD booklet, I was presented with the familiar sight of several translucent pages and the same typewriter and handwritten font as present in all of the GYBE! releases so far. Adding to the sense of déjà vu is the fact that several of the names credited with making the sounds of Set Fire to Flames are all too familiar: Moya, Roger, Sophie, Aidan. and so I prepared myself for more of the same.

By the end of my first listening, it became apparent that to call Set Fire to Flames a GYBE! side-project would not only be misleading but unfair to the band. Rather, the sound Sings Reign Rebuilder owes far more to Alien8 labelmates The Shalabi Effect than any band on constellation of Kranky, in the sense that the ‘songs’ (for want of a better word) meander at their own pace, happy to find a climax in their own time. It is this patience of build and commitment to sound – as opposed to the typical musical climax – that makes Sings Reign Rebuilder both unique and excellent.

Sings Reigns Rebuilder was recorded in five days by the band whilst in complete isolation, and the sound of the album does well to capture so much of the tension and fringe lunacy that would build after five days in a building with a bunch of other people. The recording also mirrors the physical aspects of such an isolation; we can hear people come and go in the faint background footsteps, and often aspects of the building itself become instruments themselves, be it foot taps or faint scrapes of the ground.

Indeed, for such a large collective with a wide variety of instruments credited, the actual range of the sound is quite narrow. Scrapes and wisps of guitar complement the field recordings at the start of some of the taps, whilst often the sound will go for minutes with only a faint buzzing sound or a promise of a build in tempo somewhere in the background of the recording. When the noise does break every so often, it veers sharply away from the typical post-rock strings n’ things approach: beats meander wildy, and otherworldy noises dance all over the place, with an emphasis on dischordance rather than eventual harmony. It is here that the power of Sings Reign Rebuilder resides, as the listener is on edge throughout, and when the occasional pleasant droning noises appear, they’re almost somewhat of a relief in the listening, such is the tension present elsewhere.

Without a doubt Sings Reign Rebuilder is one of my favourite albums of 2001, but that shouldn’t prevent the album being listened to without proviso. It goes without saying that this isn’t really background or group listening music, unless you’re almost completely despondent 100 percent of the time. Instead, the record is best listened to in times when your state of mind matches that of the musicians at the time they created this record: when you’re feeling despondent, isolated, and exhausted. I tried to listen at other times and most often did not have the patience to absorb the recording. However, the sensation that occurred when I was receptive and listened was nothing short of extraordinary.

As a footnote, the packaging is nothing short of beautiful too. Almost worth the cost of the CD in itself.