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Published: 2012/09/06
by Brian Robbins

International Orange!

Bloodshot Records

My first listen to Firewater’s “A Little Revolution” – the lead track on their new album International Orange! – was like hearing The Clash for the first time in 1977. Back then, The Clash’s self-titled debut hit my 19-year-old ears and went straight into my brain: it was music built from the world’s common emotional denominators, boiled down to pure syrup, infused with smart punk rock vibes, and pumped through pulsing speakers. The Clash made my world vision bigger while making the world itself smaller.

Firewater does that same thing – and does it like nobody else has in the last 35 years, in my opinion. It’s not a matter of the band sounding like The Clash (although frontman Tod A’s voice does mix a bit of Joe Strummer’s snarl with Mick Jones’ cool); rather, it’s the spirit of the music and what it’s capable of stirring up in the listener.

I thought I was clever when I jotted “world punk” on a notepad while driving down the road with International Orange! playing on the car stereo for the first time; turns out the phrase is used in Firewater’s press kit. Praise be to the good folks at Bloodshot Records: you guys ain’t shitting. I can’t beat “world punk,” myself.

Recorded in studios in Tel Aviv and Instanbul, International Orange! offers up bits of everything without ever sounding too eclectic or unfocused. “Dead Man’s Boots” finds Tod A reciting an imaginary set of rules (“Rule number one/Everybody drop your gun/It can never be a funeral when you’re in your birthday suit”) over a skanked-out guitar rhythm and ba-wump-bump bass with occasional punctuations by wobbly mariachi horns.

Those same horns are all over International Orange! – only they pull off everything from Bobby Keys/Jim Price-style punches (“Tropical Depression”) to solemn sunrise meditations (“Strange Life”). And sometimes it’s not just a trumpet (Stefano Iascone) or a trombone (Massimo Piredda or Nimrod Talmon, who also plays some lovely melodica on the album): Ferdi Seckin leads the way into “Glitter Days” with a spiraling zurna line (I’ll wait here while you look it up) before driving “Panic In Detroit”/”Sympathy For The Devil”-groove percussion takes over.

The sonic salads are many; the combos are surprising, yet make perfect sense in the land of Firewater. Dig how “The Monkey Song” adds a bit of klezmer flavor to the heavy middle-earth bass in between verses. (That bass is wielded by Adam Scheflan, by the way – capable of nailing the vibe of any corner of the globe.) At times, guitarist Uri Brauner Kinrot will remind you of Marc Robot at his most angular (“Ex-Millionaire Mambo”); other times his riffs drip with enough surf to make Dick Dale smile (“Feeling No Pain”) – the surf just happens to be on a beach very, very far away.

And throughout it all, Tod A leads Firewater with clever spins of simple words that speak big truths. The man might come from the streets of New York, but the music he’s absorbed in these last few years of traveling knows no zip code. He’ll make you think – but the key to Firewater’s music is that you don’t have to think to get it … all that comes later, when you realize how the music has stuck with you.

Which it will have.

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