A new year, a new label, a new album: we welcome Saskatchewan’s Fernwood Rail to our pages with their premiere release. Nothing Is On Fire is a perfect album for the colder months, as evidenced by lead single “The Young Winter.” Soft timbres, a hint of falling snow and pointillist piano combine to produce a feeling of stark magnificence. Amusingly, the duo follows this track with “Summer Blood,” hedging their bets to ensure a second point of access.
We give a lot of credit to Jon Neher and Michael Scott Lawson for starting things off right. The cover art is a worthy reflection of the music, portraying light ripples and jutting posts. These posts may represent the keys of a piano, disjointing from their moorings. Beginning with “Viewfield”, the duo ventures into such fractured territory, allowing their notes to drift to one side or another. The same holds true for the title, a lowest-common-denominator indicator of calm. Yes, we are sick and troubled; but at least nothing is on fire. Coupled with the art, the saying conjure another aphorism: worse things have happened at sea.
Although the album is primarily placid, a dark undercurrent can also be heard. This appears as early as the first note, an electronic warning that the duo might row into the drone dock if need be. While such a transition never occurs, the listener appreciates the potential for expansion. The integration of field recordings, first perceptible on “Pleuvoir (To Rain)”, allows for a mood to settle in like a soft mist, matching the cloudy day cover. The only disruption to the flow is the separation of the few warbling tracks (three and five, to a lesser extent six and ten), which might have been better back-to-back. The current sequencing highlights variety, but not trajectory. This being said, the closer “Amasia” is in the right place, as it fulfills the promise of the opener by combining all four influences (piano, electronics, field recordings and tape movement). This is a minor quibble for a premiere release that is better than most follow-up efforts: a strong statement for Fenwood Rail that bodes well for their future success. (Richard Allen)