by Craig Howieson
A Dark, Dark Bright is an impassioned reckoning that finds camaraderie in commonality
It’s rare to come across a ‘casual’ fan of There Will Be Fireworks. Those who know of the Glasgow five piece care deeply for the band, and their protracted release schedule only adds to the fervent nature in which their discography is discussed. Often compared – albeit lazily – to Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad, the group seldom sound like either. But they do deserve their place mentioned in the same breath as their more celebrious peers.
The five friends were never careerists. Even at the height of the hype surrounding the unsigned release of their self-titled debut, they were matter of fact in interviews such as this one with The Line Of Best FIt, that the band was – and would only ever realistically be – a part time thing, with a sporadic touring schedule fitting firmly around work and study commitments.
Having somewhere to hide away, and to lose themselves in something bigger was the driving force in them making music, and if anything this fact makes their material all the more resonant. Like the early work of The National, when Berninger and the Dessner and Devendorf brothers were holding down day jobs, there is a certain downbeat magic to the music made as an escape from Nine-to-Five mundanity.
The above goes some way to explaining why the group’s highly anticipated follow up to their critically-acclaimed debut took almost five years to come to fruition. They certainly weren’t trying to ride a wave of good press and get a follow-up out quickly. But for those who waited, those who’d had the hair on the back of their necks rise when the screamed chorus of We Were Roman Candles kicked in, The Dark, Dark Bright was worth it. And so much more.
In many ways The Dark, Dark Bright is a perfect continuation from the band’s debut. The core building blocks of their sound are present and correct, but every element is more emphatic. There is an attention to detail that accompanies every crescendo, spoken-word sample or track sequence. If the debut was the sound of firecrackers being let off in a carpark, its follow up is a Catherine wheel fixed to the wall, its fiery beauty visible for all to share in.
Sonically the album reaffirms the hard to come by comparisons to post rock greats such as This Will Destroy You and Explosions in the Sky. A fire is set on River, and in spite of the icy soundscapes that open the track it quickly turns into a furnace. Ash Wednesday, meanwhile, builds with the emotional toll of tears swelling at a funeral, until it can take no more, and spills its guts on the living room floor.
Singer Nicholas McManus is reminiscent of Conor Oberst. Not that you would ever mistake the two, the ocean dividing them is evident, but it is the impassioned delivery where every word feels like it could be the last that binds them. Much like on Bright Eyes’ LIFTED… the odd vocal wobble only adds to the effect. In the age of AI perfection seeping its way into popular music, it reminds us that the imperfections in art are what create these human connections. As McManus screams ‘The sky could fall tonight for all I care’ on South Street you believe him. If the world was to end in that calamitous cacophony of guitars and flail of drums, would it really be such a bad way to go.
The rest of the band do plenty of heavy lifting too. Drummer, Adam Ketterer, plays with the intent of someone trying to outpace an imminent threat that is going to rob him of his ability to hit the skins at any moment. In the dying moments of River the battered snare feels like it will leave a permanent imprint on your chest only to be devoured by neverending ripples of cymbals.
A Dark, Dark Bright also showed There Will Be Fireworks’ newfound confidence to find an idea and stick with it. While many tracks had their trademark, quiet-loud, fast-slow dynamism there were other songs entirely devoted to a certain vibe. Roots is a modern day bothy ballad, burdened by heavy Scottish weather, and the sublest and sweetest they had ever sounded. They also no longer relied on sheer volume to make a lasting impression. McManus’ heart shattered delivery of ‘And these songs I’ve been singing, Don’t keep the world from spinning’ over the rolling acoustic strums of Your House Was Aglow, is just as poignant and devastating as the skyscraping moments he screams into abysmal winds.
The record has just reached its ten year anniversary accompanied by a vinyl repress that sold out almost immediately. But this reissue is not an exercise in nostalgia. Given the band’s glacial pace of making music all their releases have been infused with at least an element of that. Instead it is a timely opportunity for more people to become acquainted with a phenomenal record from an incredible band.
A Dark, Dark Bright pounds with a human heart, and that is what makes it so special. It is an impassioned reckoning by five young musicians looking for some semblance of escapism. Documenting heads buried in pillows, haunted dreams and the loss of friends to time or circumstance it finds camaraderie in commonality. And when you recognise even the faintest reflection of yourself emanating from the speakers, it’s hard to feel completely alone.
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