Killing Fields Of Ontario - The Shock of the Sparks
Folk music has undergone a huge resurgence in recent years. The transformation is difficult to overstate, as where folk was once a dirty word, now it’s riding high courtesy of the likes of Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and the return of the old guard, like Robert Plant’s new Band of Joy. There are folk influences everywhere now and it’s no longer considered career suicide to throw in a bit of banjo or harmonica.
Killing Fields of Ontario have come along at a good time then, and must be hoping their distinctly Americana take on folk rock is seized on by a few people between Mumford records. The Shock of the Sparks veers between banjo or mandolin heavy tracks with raucous, singalong choruses like openers ‘Tired of Being A Man’ and ‘Needy’ to MOR ballads with a folk tinge (‘Breathe’) and more blues rock inspired stomps. They’re going for an upbeat, anthemic take on folk rock on ‘Handful of Dust’, which drops to a more stripped back sound towards the end in order to build it all up again. It’s a nice thought, but one that could be executed a little smoother. The repetition in the song gets a bit much and it can feel laboured on occasion, a criticism that could be levelled at the album a few times here.
‘Breathe’ shows off a vocal midway between Eddie Vedder and Damien Rice in tone, with syrupy strings, while ‘Single Rose’ has the kind of dirty blues rock riff that isn’t a million miles away from something The Black Keys would blast out with plenty of attitude. There’s even a nod to Ryan Adams on ‘Memory Lane’ and ‘Broken Flowers’ which sound like him both in name and by the Johnny Marr-aping guitar line on the former, and the Americana style picking on the latter.
Nothing about The Shock of the Sparks suggests ‘Sheffield’ to the listener, where the band actually hails from. This, in itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing; hell, there’ve been hundreds of successful and great sounding acts that didn’t betray their geographical roots through their songs, only musical ones (Led Zeppelin, anyone?). However, it does become part of the problem when the album has so many influences on show that haven’t yet been fully assimilated into a unique sound of the band’s own. There are some genuinely arresting moments here though, such as 'Falling Man'’s understated opening, the eerie atmosphere of ‘Broken Flowers’ and the late 60s West Coast harmonising of ‘What Kind of Day Has It Been?’.
As a debut album, and a self released one at that, this isn’t a bad start. The vocals are a little overstretched at times, and the songs are perhaps too earnest, too soon, but there is enough here to warrant a return listen and suggest that there is much more to come from Killing Fields of Ontario.