The Burning Hell - Public Library
Storytelling is an oral tradition, one that Ontario's The Burning Hell rely on to spread their fame and one day, with a fair tail wind, their fortune. Those who love the indie/folk rock band, really love them, and can't wait to share their respect for creative driving force Mathias Kom's hyper-literate, warm, and witty stories. Therefore it's fitting the band's seventh album Public Library is a collection of stories about stories: "Drawn from different sections of the bookshelf of the brain.” These stories vary from murder mystery to literary criticism, rollercoastering our emotions with common threads of love and loss with a lot of broad, often guilty, smiles.
The true crime ‘Good Times’ is indicative, a story nominally of a man’s love of sports but actually about his love, or even biological requirement, of violence. At the same time the fable offers – deep breath – detailed commentary on the vicious societal and personal cycle of institutionalisation. And it’s also lots of fun with Ariel Sharratt’s playful clarinet extracting further joy from Kom’s warmly vocalised lyrics, “You call it a riot, I call it a celebration / You call it violence, I call it an altercation”. These lyrics are brave as few reference “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” with as much tongue in their cheek. The story’s unfortunate character laments jail wasn’t like this in the movies, but he reminds us of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp; serious matters can keep their meaning without being discussed seriously and the human story is paramount. We can’t help feel affinity even though we fear he’s lost cause.
Kom’s rapid fire lyrics contain deep emotional depth and wide narrative breadth while keeping a common touch; friends speak to each other not down to each other. But there’s more than Kom's lyrics, loving care and attention is paid to musical arrangements as we hear in ‘F––ck the Government, I Love You’. This romantic comedy (borrowed from Kom and Sharratt’s eponymous ‘Don't Believe The Hyperreal’ love duets album) describes the pair's first meeting with a rare treat of both vocals’ parity. The duo sing “Love songs are dumb”, but we’re not sure they think they’re that dumb; despite the band’s rapid fire lyrics, like the best books, much of the story is in-between the bullet points and there’s a good story in-between these.
There’s despair but always hope, and love comes in various forms. ‘Men Without Hats’ is a 1990s-indie pop tinged super catchy coming of age story, Kom beautifully sharing the anticipation, embarrassment, then release on buying his first (audiocassette!) single. “The very first day in pop music” is a foundational, transformative moment set against childhood frustrations and daydreaming, and unlike most first loves, carefully packed and lovingly preserved into adulthood. This review concludes with Kom's lyrics taken from this story but descriptive of the album and the band’s relationship to their fans: good friends sharing stories who derive value from knowing work has been lovingly crafted. You'll repeatedly play The Burning Hell’s album Public Library as you repeatedly played your favourite singles as a child.
It’s life or death but it’s also just music
And it chooses you, you don’t get to choose it
Thanks for giving us so many good reasons to dance
Thanks for giving us so many good reasons to sing along