The Brow Horn Orchestra: Two Fires

- What a strange brew this crew are. The Brow Horn Orchestra, out of Fremantle, are a mixture of sounds as various as their ever-changing line-up over the last few years. Starting as a simple pair of players in Nicholas Owen and Karri Harper Meredith, the group has been through as many as nine other folks in the intervening years, bringing with them a diverse array of sounds, including trumpet, trombone, synth, violin, clarinet, sax and the obligatory guitar, bass and drums, oh and some rapping to suplement their regular vox as well. That's a wide array, sure, but it's what they do with it that is more eye-popping. Grafting together afrobeat and funk with hip hop, ska, electro-pop and now, more obviously than ever before, some pumping dance beats as well, it's difficult to think of anyone else The Brow Horn Orchestra sound like. Perhaps they have some distant cousins in world-dance fusionists Tijuana Cartel, although the ingredients in the mix for the two bands are quite different, both have been making a break into a more overtly dance sound. The smooth opening to The Brow Horn Orch's Two Fires is not the best example, but the synth sheen enveloping the big ska beat, trombone and trumpet gives you the right idea, especially when paired with the auto-tuned Jamaican-style vocals. Just as an aside, I had a nagging feeling, listening along to this EP that The Brow Horn kids were playing pretty near to a line that shouldn't be crossed, where adding one too many genres could ruin everything. The rapping (which, I hasten to point out, I have no problem with in itself), pushed uneasily together with so many other disparate sounds, nearly did that for me, like I just couldn't fit it all together in my head. Still, head-breaking though it might be, the brashness, the gaul of attempting to pull it off, kept me enthralled, no doubt. Single, Fade, starts with a more pumping dance-pop beat, before throwing on the horns again over the top of a very groovy, repeatedly descending scale in the bass. The electro-pop vocal heads for the sky and meshes a little bit less jarringly with the rap on this track. The ultra-smooth production on all this dance-pop could start to seem a little cheesy after a while, but the groove of the beats in combination with the power of the horns got it across the line for me, easy. We Are Home Again, is, if anything, even catchier than what's come before, a genuine dance anthem. Listening to this, it feels as if the afrobeat and funk aren't really a part of where the band are going, the horns only remaining to give an unusually large amount of body to these dance tunes. It may well explain why the hip hop elements again feel tacked on. Compounding this, even the horns get sidelined for a large part of Family, feeling one step closer to the 'danceformation' the sound has been pushing toward, although they do get broken out along with some more of that back-massaging bass I mentioned earlier, for the song's big finish. If The Brow Horn Orchestra are really on the verge of becoming a dance act proper, they do their best to keep everyone guessing with the EP's finale and title-track, Two Fires. It's a funky, bass-heavy number, built around it's raps. Despite where The Brow Horn Orchestra appear to be going and especially after the offhanded nature of the hip hop elsewhere on the record, it is surprising how well they bring it, when they put their minds to it.
Unexpectedness defines this EP: The Brow Horn Orchestra can do many things, very well, and sometimes they come together pretty crazily. Also, sometimes they don't and the band fight against themselves, trying to fit all their different facets together. On balance I find I'm prepared to wade through the moments that don't work, The Brow Horn Orchestra are worth it.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Two Fires
Artist: The Brow Horn Orchestra
Record Label: (Indie / MGM)