The Burning Hell return with an album of infectiously joyful music and trademark razor-sharp, droll but insightfully devastating lyrics.
Canadian trio, The Burning Hell, are back with their ninth album, ‘Garbage Island.’ Based around songwriter Mathias Kom and multi-instrumentalists Ariel Sharratt and Jake Nicoll, the trio are renowned for their astonishing work rate and DIY approach to every aspect of their music, so with the pandemic limiting their opportunities to maintain their productivity in so many other areas, the trio have, for the first time, produced, engineered and mixed their album themselves. They’ve done an outstanding job.
The album was inspired by Kom’s daily lockdown walks to the shore, and watching the seabirds flying over and through the endless discarded plastic debris that would wash up on the rocks every morning. The scene brought to his mind the notorious Garbage Island, otherwise known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, that depressingly gigantic mass of floating marine debris – mainly plastics – that pollutes the great oceans. With this album, Kom imagines an entire island forming, that is dominated by seabirds, and in this post-apocalyptic world the few humans who remain spend most of their time birdwatching. The songs manage to veer from grim commentary on a disintegrating world to hilarious observations regarding the endlessly bewildering ability of life to renew and rebuild.
Kom’s rich baritone brings to mind Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, The National’s Matt Berninger or Bill Callahan, and Kom’s dry humour and razor-sharp insights also recall the late-great David Berman (Silver Jews, Purple Mountains). Lyrically, the entire album is a tour-de-force. It’s literate, at times profound, but witty enough throughout that it never feels forced as the songs range across a vast swathe of pop and cultural references: from fondly name-checking each member of the B52s (‘Empty World’), mixing surrealist imagery and Lord of the Rings (‘Birdwatching’), quoting Tolstoy (‘No Peace’), to even recounting the true story of a lovelorn gannet called Nigel, complete with perfectly-pitched XTC reference (‘Nigel the Gannet’).
The music is just as clever as the words. There’s something of a post-punk feel throughout the album: scratchy, choppy guitars; poppy synth lines that aren’t afraid to even sometimes embrace the cheese; stabs of lofi funk with impressive drumming and seductive basslines; sweetly finger-picked guitar lines and even sweeter string arrangements, brilliant vocal harmonies, and an array of unusual and distinctively different sounds, with everything played and performed just perfectly. Every song on the album has its own certain magic, but while they all sound quite different, they also hang together to make a superb album.
Maybe The Burning Hell won’t be for everyone – I don’t think they’d even want to be for everyone – but if you like brilliant, thought-provoking lyrics, superb musicianship and killer tunes, you know what… you might just love this too.