In the past three years, Scotland’s bank of post-punk reissues has been surprisingly fertile. Orange Juice, APB and Josef K have all been privilege to stateside reissue compilations, the likes of which we haven’t seen, pretty much ever. All three have had their albums out of print round these parts for quite some time, so it’s quite a gift to be handed so many great collections in such a short amount of time. It hasn’t ended, however, as post-punk Scotland itself was pretty fertile with great acts, and the latest band to receive the honor of a US reissue is Fire Engines, as Carpark Records has offered a singles collection titled Hungry Beat.
In many ways, Fire Engines were quite similar to Orange Juice and Josef K, as they shared those bands’ affinity for taut, funky, jerky rhythms and jangly, yet abrasive guitar riffs. What separates Fire Engines is their propensity for sounding even more dissonant, sometimes opting for atonality over catchiness, while still remaining somewhat accessible in the process. Think early Fall or Pere Ubu, or even the Pop Group with a minimum of dub effects, and you’ll come somewhat close to the manic weirdness of Fire Engines.
Hungry Beat collects material from Fire Engines’ three singles and one mini-LP, adding up to sixteen tracks of tightly wound post-punk artiness that, given their relative anonymity this side of the pond, sounds entirely fresh and invigorating. Leadoff track “Candyskin” is simultaneously lush, pastoral and skronky. Strings weep beneath junkyard guitar clang, making for a bizarre juxtaposition of sounds that sound both harshly mismatched and perfectly synched. It’s an odd pairing, but the song is top notch. “Meat Whiplash,” by comparison is more straightforward, a guitar-bass-drums jam that stands up to the best of Orange Juice or Josef K’s singles. Vocalist Day Henderson sounds something like a Scottish version of The Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano, nasal and erratic, yet perfectly suited to their oddball punk.
“Get Up and Use Me” is among the harsher sounding tracks on Hungry Beat, jerking back and forth with a progression that grates as it allures. “Everything’s Roses” contains one of the most infectious guitar riffs, descending with jagged lines, jabbing between the tight snaps of bass. With “Plastic Gift” there’s a striking difference in production, more compressed and with the slightest bit of gloss, even a minimal amount of synth. And “New Thing in Cartons” sounds particularly similar to some of The Fall’s early material, as it saunters with a lazy, bouncing beat and ragged major chords.
Hungry Beat is somewhat short, considering it’s a career retrospective, but keep in mind that Fire Engines didn’t actually release all that much during their career. They have, however, reunited to play a limited run of shows, so there seems no better time to get acquainted. It’s a hell of a collection from a band many Americans probably never knew existed, and a great addition to your Scotchtoberfest soundtrack.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.