Fireworks Were Too Good for This World
die young and live forever
WHY NOT FIREWORKS?: GOSPEL, OH COMMON LIFE, AND SOME HYPOTHESES
If the Wonder Years were the most prominent and popular band of the early 2010s wave of pop-punk, then Fireworks were their mirror image: just as creative and beloved by their fans as the Wonder Years (if not moreso), but just a bit too ahead of their time with each release to fully realize their potential and capitalize on their popularity. While the Wonder Years have seemingly ascended to new levels of popularity with each new release, and now occupy the space of elder statesmen and mentors, Fireworks spent their entire career with success and recognition just outside their grasp. They were by no means small-timers in the scene, and for a time they were one of the first names in the mouth of anyone who was recommending a new band to their underground-curious friends, but Fireworks refused to commit wholesale to any one pocket of sound and as a consequence weren’t so easily marketed.
Frontman Dave Mackinder is an immensely gifted singer and perfect frontman; cute, charismatic, with a wide range, a smooth, mellifluous timbre, and just the right bit of grit at the bottom. But he wasn’t as traditionally pretty as an Alex Gaskarth, nor did he possess the otherworldly soul pipes of a Patrick Stump, so he wasn’t quite a fit for the world of the ultra-polished mainstream pop-punk that was finding a home with tweens throughout the late 2000s. Of course, his lyrics were just a bit too poetic and world-weary for kids that young to relate to anyway— by the same token, they also weren’t as plaintive and immediate as Dan Campbell’s, which put a ceiling on their ability to hit the Wonder Years’s level of mass appeal.
Musically, too, they were a bit of an odd duck. For most of the band’s life, their ranks were filled by guitarists Brett Jones and Chris Mojan, bassist Kyle O’Neil, and drummer Tymm Rengers, all of whom were extremely talented. The band melded several styles: complex and intricate guitar and bass melodies that pulled from Midwest emo twisting around each other in a frenetic stew; powerful, fast drumming that was accomplished enough to fly in the face of anyone who would sneer at the musicianship of a punk drummer; plentiful and instantly memorable hooks that laid themselves like time bombs throughout songs that were often constructed in sneakily progressive and deliberate ways.
Fireworks was, on all levels, a cut above pretty much every band in their style on a sheer skill level, and were far more inventive and cosmopolitan, too. I love Man Overboard’s Real Talk, but most of that record is extremely straightforward, with some painful lyrics and vocal performances that required some extremely obvious autotune; although the Story So Far can play their asses off, Under Soil and Dirt traffics in chunky, unambiguous chord progressions, with Parker Cannon’s at-times misogynist lyrical content and flat, mildly abrasive roar shoved up in the mix. But although I can understand why more simply-constructed and easy-to-digest songs lent themselves to a wider audience, I’m going to have to make the comparison again (and I promise this will not be too much of a recurring theme throughout this essay, because I truly do hate pitting these two against each other) between Fireworks and the Wonder Years, who are also stellar musicians capable of putting together complex and unconventionally structured songs. Fireworks were by no means a band lacking in energy— on occasion, the sheer speed at which their drum patterns and guitar arpeggios are played leaves me out of breath just listening, and they had no shortage of short and fast ragers— but is it just that the Wonder Years were more upfront, more visceral and cathartic, as compared to the pensive and disenchanted atmosphere that Fireworks often conjured?
Although all these elements certainly played a part, I think that, again, Fireworks were just ahead of their time. Their debut EP, We Are Everywhere, came out in 2006, the same year as All Time Low’s Put Up or Shut Up EP (otherwise known as the last All Time Low record most DIY kids will openly admit to liking), and although the production was a bit dirtier, there were some obvious parallels between the sound of Fireworks and the sound of All Time Low (and, correlatively, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco, who All Time Low were severely ripping off on that EP)— heavy, aggressive guitar tones and high-octane playing in service of catchy hooks delivered by an obviously talented singer. But where Fall Out Boy, Panic!, and All Time Low worked with producers to varying degrees, sanding down their song structures into something so accessible and polished that the average layperson could look past even the chaotic and troubling lyrics of Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross, Fireworks’s songs were just a touch more manic, even at their most midtempo, and were equally a touch more adventurous, switching up tempos on a dime and writing bridges that transitioned into still more bridges rather than resting on the laurels of their many powerful choruses. Fireworks were restlessly creative.
This isn’t to say they did make a legitimate go of being a full-time career band— after their first LP and a flurry of EPs and singles, they released 2011’s Gospel, a fantastic and, courtesy of legendary producer Brian McTernan, extremely clean-sounding and tightly-written collection of punchy and palatable pop-punk songs that still retained much of the familiar Fireworks energy, and that record gained a decent bit of traction and was almost their breakthrough. But it was, unfortunately, followed up with a brief hiatus that seemingly stopped their momentum in their tracks, despite an enthusiastic return to touring in 2012.
By the time they recovered and returned with 2014’s Oh, Common Life, they had evolved into a woozy and lovingly textured band that reveled in their pop and indie inclinations and made frequent use of keyboards; there just didn’t seem to be a place for such mature and restrained songwriting in what the pop-punk scene had become by then, and the music was too clean and slick to fit in with the more confessional and jagged aesthetic of the emo bands that were making noise in the indie circuit at the time. The album didn’t quite fail, but it wasn’t a smash success, either; in time, the pressures of real life found their way to the band, and they went on indefinite hiatus in 2015. It’s a shame, because Oh, Common Life bore a strong similarity to the more contemplative material that Motion City Soundtrack had been writing for a while— but I suppose that band also went on hiatus around the same time, so maybe people just don’t dig it when pop-punk bands don’t pretend to be reckless twentysomethings anymore.
Last year, Fireworks teased a return from hiatus with the announcement of Higher Lonely Power as well as the single “Demitasse,” which was even more of an exponential expansion on their sound, incorporating more meditative influences from the slow-burning atmospherics of post-rock and the angular tension of post-hardcore. It was warmly received, and while the pandemic has probably wreaked havoc on their plans for the record’s release, I’m hopeful that enough time has lapsed for the cult of Fireworks to have spread and that their return will be more triumphant than their initial exit. I almost wish they had toughed it out for the last 5 years, too— they’ve developed a sound not far off from what Tigers Jaw has been doing, and that band’s staid consistency and work ethic has kept them in the top tier of touring outfits for years.
I noted in my Wonder Years essay that Fireworks were one of those bands that seemingly everyone, from pop-punk kids to emo kids to hardcore kids, could agree on, and that they drew extremely diverse crowds whenever they played out. This is true, but I should emphasize again just how much Fireworks were beloved by the hardcore scene. For whatever reason, every hardcore kid I knew regarded them as at worst a guilty pleasure and at best one of their absolute favorite active bands; it wasn’t uncommon at all for someone to namedrop Fireworks in the same breath as Trash Talk when they were talking about upcoming shows they were stoked on. (DIY emo loved them too, for the record, they were just a little quieter about it).
It seems strange, at first, to consider that a band who wrote pop songs as sophisticated and tuneful as Fireworks did could be so embraced by the same scene that lapped up the filthy noise blasts of Nails and the sludgy sonic violence of Xibalba, but it’s painfully obvious in retrospect— Fireworks evoked the same confused and poetic emotional turmoil of someone like longtime hardcore-kid-favorite Morrissey, only without the pretension, and with the added benefit of extremely energetic and aggressive performances and a heavily participatory live show, augmented by the band’s frequent indulgence of gang vocals (always a communal hardcore favorite) and hooks that were just as hard-hitting and kinetic as their drumming.
It probably also has something to do with the fact that hardcore kids can always tell their own; Fireworks was composed of hardcore kids through and through. From 1997 to 2005 Mackinder and O’Neil played in the band Half the Battle, who had a few releases on Silent Movie Records (the same label that did a few early releases for easycore heavyweights Hit the Lights) and sounded a lot like other early 2000s melodic metalcore/post-hardcore bands like Poison the Well, Fordirelifesake, and 7 Angels 7 Plagues— catchy, intricately-written, but heavy, too. Meanwhile, Mojan and Jones did time in a ridiculously heavy band called A Knife Fight Tragedy, and O’Neil also briefly played in a gruff Hot Water Music-esque post-hardcore band called Stranger On A Train.
(For the record, it’s borderline impossible to find information or recordings from any of these bands— the best I could do was a Facebook page for Stranger On A Train and a last.fm page for A Knife Fight Tragedy that has eight scrobbles. Then some very kind person on Twitter pointed me to the Metro-Detroit Hall Show Scene page on Facebook, where you can get pretty much the entire Half the Battle discography as well as the only four songs it seems A Knife Fight Tragedy ever recorded. It’s also worth flicking through the group just to check out some of the cool-as-hell Michigan bands from back in the day— Short of 1st, the Weakend, and Heirs would probably be my suggestions to start with. I hope you schmucks are thankful for my extreme obsessive-compulsion.)
AN ABSURDLY LONG SIDEBAR ABOUT THE NATURE OF ALTERNATIVE YOUTH SUBCULTURES IN THE EARLY 2010s
This leads into some thoughts I’ve been having lately about this era of pop-punk— a friend of mine told me to listen to the song “This Is How We Do” by All Time Low, which has pretty obvious roots in skate punk and melodic hardcore, complete with gang vocals and a lite-breakdown. I had a bit of a personal crisis here, because, like, are gang vocals and a lite-breakdown all I need to ascertain that a pop-punk band has “legit” influence from hardcore, even if it’s more likely that All Time Low aren’t actually taking from Lifetime, they’re indirectly taking from Lifetime vis-a-vis Fall Out Boy? It’s hard to truly delineate at a certain point, but there is an intangible sort of rawness that, say, the Movielife possesses that All Time Low/Mayday Parade/We the Kings/Forever the Sickest Kids, et al, doesn’t really.
I can’t kid myself and pretend that all pop-punk doesn’t sound like the soundtrack to a Disney movie regardless, but I would like the bands to at least pretend like they’ve punched a mirror before. And that’s really the central thing that I think united this era of pop-punk, hardcore, and emo into a semi-unified scene— there was an underlying sense of agony and fucked-up-ness that spoke to the same pit gnawing inside all these kids, and also drew us to the alternative hip-hop that was proliferating around the same time— the early days of Odd Future, Danny Brown’s XXX, and so on. So much of it was predicated on this mixture of tortured self-loathing and a sense that the fun we had at shows was at once our salvation and our distraction from our real problems.
And when I say real problems, I mean the shit that draws in every kid who gets into DIY emo and hardcore— fucked-up families, addiction, poverty, maybe even just anger issues or depression and anxiety that had gone undiagnosed or even just the desperate urge to fight off the loneliness and despair of being a teenager. Not to say those emotions are unique to DIY emo and hardcore fans— even though there was a huge crossover with hip-hop, at that point largely thanks to Odd Future, the rap shit was infinitely more popular than the rock shit— but it certainly, somehow, felt communicated more authentically. I’m sure this sounds like irrational pabulum and directionless babbling at this point, but this is one of those things that’s surprisingly hard to articulate.
(And before anyone else says it, yeah, I know for a fact that many of the kids who back then were listening to anything from Fabolous and Young Money to Katy Perry and Ke$ha to Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace to Slipknot to Hollywood Undead to Taylor Swift to NeverShoutNever and Of Mice & Men and Pierce the Veil were probably also dealing with a lot of horrible shit and rough home lives, but I think the dynamic of the DIY hardcore/pop-punk/emo scene— and, though there isn’t as much room to discuss it in this particular essay, the Internet communities that were springing up around indie/alternative rap on places like Formspring and Tumblr, blogs like Nah Right and 2dopeboyz, and message boards like Okayplayer— was a lot more community-oriented and constructive, even with its many obvious drawbacks and elements of toxicity. Hopefully that makes a little bit of sense.)
The more mainstream iteration of pop-punk from this time didn’t really have anything to do with “real problems” (and I promise I’m not trying to a do a my-first-world-problems-are-more-valid-than-yours thing, I’m just saying that the angst apparent in a song like “Miserable at Best” was a far cry from the Capital-A Angst that bled through the average Harms Way, Crucial Dudes, or Grown Ups song, and I know that from the distanced perspective of, say, someone who was an adult when all this stuff was happening, these differences seem as superficial as a haircut and choice of band shirt at most, but they felt palpable to me back then and still do today). I’m not saying any of the neon-pop/Disney-punk bands are even bad; the songs are obviously well-written and performed and arranged, and it connected with a lot of people who needed it and provided a valuable stepping stone to more underground music. I’m just saying (and this probably says a lot more about me than it does any of these bands) that if there wasn’t at least a hint of deep dysfunction or brokenness, it was a lot harder for me to get down with. (Now that I’m older and trying my best to mostly live a G-rated life, there are definitely a few All Time Low songs that bump.)
Anyway, I’m sure you’re not here to read about me waxing nostalgic for my high school days, when I would leave school early to work at Target, go straight to get Mexican food with my homies, head to a show at a place like House of Wonk, the Womb Room, or Yayo’s, head back to stay up all night watching Adult Swim, sleep through first period, and then do it all over again. Let’s cap it off with a brief rundown of Fireworks’s early shit— no disrespect to Gospel and Oh, Common Life, both of which are great albums in their own right and which I may cover in more depth some other time, but this was the stuff that made me fall head over heels for this outfit.
FIREWORKS, FROM ROUGHLY 2004 to 2010
Fireworks started in the Detroit suburbs (I believe, specifically, Livonia) under the name Bears in 2004, before settling on the name Fireworks (a reference to the American Nightmare song “Fuck What Fireworks Stand For”) and releasing a demo in 2005. Along with Polar Bear Club, who also released a pretty good demo in 2005, and Title Fight, who were literally fourteen years old and sounded like this, Fireworks were one of the very first bands to be playing this style of pop-punk— the Wonder Years were still doing an easycore thing, Tigers Jaw had just started and were doing more of a lo-fi/indie thing, Transit wasn’t around yet, and I don’t even think the pre-Man Overboard band the Front Page was in existence.
The Fireworks demo, which eventually came to be known as Can’t Hardly Wait, is pretty roughly recorded and instead of song names all the tracks are titled with quotes from the movie of the same name, but the songwriting and performances are also much more sophisticated and confident than any of the band’s aforementioned peers. Most of the songs would end up being polished for later releases. (“Denise Fleming Is A Tampon” would end up becoming “From Mountain Movers to Lazy Losers” and “Women with No Curfew” would become “Don’t Blame the Ocean Floor” by the time of their first proper EP, and on their second EP “Somebody? More Like… Nobody!” became “Dave Mackinder vs. the World”— Ed.) The redone versions of the songs are generally a bit more powerful and confident-sounding than the demos here, but there are two songs forgotten by the sands of time worth noting— “Sheep! You’re All Sheep! Bah!”, which is pretty good despite being the most forgettable song here, and “Mike Dexter > Amanda Beckett,” which is a phenomenal pop-punk track that ends with a deliberately (I think) hilarious auto-tuned vocal performance over a breakdown, sounding kind of like an affectionate parody of Four Year Strong. Also worth mentioning is the song “Anybody Order A Loveburger?”, which is a bit plodding and weak but would become completely reworked (and fucking amazing) by the time it reappeared in 2008 as “Decline of a Midwestern Civilization.”
Still, despite being rough around the edges, it was immediately clear that Fireworks had an ear for unique song structures, immense raw talent, and an uncanny knack for carving sticky, spiky hooks into any available crevice within their songs. Such was their potential that they attracted the attention of Run for Cover, which was, at the time, primarily a hardcore label— their very first release was the debut EP, Death Sentence, by largely-forgotten NorCal hardcore band These Days (it’s a great record, don’t sleep on it) in 2004, and they followed it up with warmly-received records like This Is Hell’s second self-titled 7” and the Sinking Ships Meridian comp; both bands played in that crossover realm of metallic and melodic hardcore a la Killing the Dream, Life Long Tragedy, and early Misery Signals (which would eventually become codified by Modern Life Is War and massively popularized by Defeater, then For the Fallen Dreams, Counterparts, and the Ghost Inside, but that’s really a totally different story).
In any case, Fireworks was the first non-explicitly hardcore band on Run for Cover, and they were an anomaly for a short period of time— the lone band with broad, sweet choruses amidst punchy melodic hardcore bands like Crime In Stereo and thrashy Canadian hardcore like Revenge. Their debut for Run for Cover, 2006’s We Are Everywhere EP, delighted in the juxtaposition between the cleaner, more accessible sound of Fireworks and the rest of the world that they inhabited. The hardcore roots and energy are on full display— nary a track goes by without a robust series of gang vocals, and songs like “You Weren’t Born with a Bag of Sand in Your Hands” espouse an intensely community-oriented ethos— but it was clear that Fireworks, like so many bands before them, could channel that energy into tight, well-oiled pop songs. Opener “From Mountain Movers to Lazy Losers” is an oft-cited fan favorite for several good reason: ridiculous drum work; groovy and catchy two-step riffs; tons of melodic variance and exploratory guitar riffs; a stellar and multi-faceted bridge; breathless lyrics about the collapse of a friendship (I think this song might be about someone breaking edge, actually?) delivered with Mackinder’s signature gently-raspy-yet-powerful pipes.
The intensity gets taken down a notch with “Midnight Society” and “Cardellini,” both are mid-tempo and more conventionally catchy pop-punk songs, but in typical Fireworks fashion are teeming over with magnificent small touches and surprising depth, especially in the guitar and drum departments. “Cardellini” in particular could have been a “Sugar, We’re Going Down”-level hit in another world what with it’s massive, easily-digestible chorus (what is with pop-punk bands and the phrase “calling all cars,” anyway?) and a phenomenally emotive performance from Mackinder.
Missed radio opportunities aside, We Are Everywhere is chock-full of wonderfully unique and creative pop-punk songs. “Michigan Boys Need to Get A Clue” has a borderline-annoying “shout it out, whoa-oh” hook but makes up for it with a song structure and performance that slowly builds on top of itself into an absolutely fantastic bridge and climax, which itself falls apart into a twinkly breakdown that builds back up into the opening of the following track, “Don’t Blame It On the Ocean Floor.” “Floor” takes the tempo back down a bit again, but it’s so rhythmically propulsive and flat-out listenable (the back-and-forth between the bass and the hand-claps is so clever) that you’ve barely noticed by the time it gets cranked back up to four-on-the-floor for the payoff. A suitably heavy-yet-catchy riff caps off the affair, although if you’re listening on CD like I did a million times it’s worth waiting the 20 or so seconds for the acoustic bonus track, “Chicago Is Cliche,” which isn’t anything special in and of itself, but it’s really pretty and opens with a lyrical shout-out to Las Vegas (I’m always a sucker for when bands give props to my shitty-ass hometown) and sounds something like what I imagine a Plain White T’s acoustic track would be if that band was good at all.
Fireworks toured a shitload between 2006 and 2008, including a memorable run with Set Your Goals, and would eventually hook up with Triple Crown. Although their later full-lengths would be Triple Crown-exclusive, Fireworks stuck with Run for Cover for a few more EPs as well as a few vinyl runs of their debut LP— but that was still several months off. September 2008 saw the release of their Adventures, Nostalgia & Robbery EP, which is, in my opinion, the tightest and most succinct snapshot of not just Fireworks, but the entire new wave of pop-punk at the time. Its fall release date saw it coming on the heels of summer offerings by the Wonder Years (their landmark Won’t Be Pathetic Forever EP) and new Run for Cover labelmates This Time Next Year (their The Longest Way Home EP).
In retrospect, Adventures looks a bit like a challenge to the aforementioned bands— although the Wonder Years had yet to release their Kid Dynamite cover, This Time Next Year were named after a Movielife album and covered Kid Dynamite’s “3 O’Clock” (no shade to This Time Next Year, who are a great band in their own right, but this is one of my absolute favorite Kid Dynamite tracks and they made it sound far too mannered and squeaky-clean). It only seemed natural that Fireworks would cover “Heart-A-Tact” in kind; not only was it an acknowledgment of the lineage all three bands were pulling from (and an extra tip of the hat is due to Mackinder, since he alluded to this song previously in the lyrics to “Don’t Blame the Ocean Floor”), but it was also an effortless one-up, performed with far more grit and gusto than the TTNY cover (although I will admit that Mackinder’s vocals are just a bit too naturally clean to really capture that Shevchuck sandpaper vocal tone, he does his best, and the rest of the band is in fine form).
Aside from the Kid Dynamite cover, Adventures mostly consists of reworked songs from their 2005 demo, but they both fare much better here. “Dave Mackinder vs. the World” sounds much more visceral and confident, with faster and heavier drum fills complementing the song’s energy nicely. “Decline of a Midwestern Civilization” takes the original song and strips it down to room noise, two gently-played electric guitars, and Mackinder’s voice for the majority of the runtime; eventually the drums and bass come in for a low-key, bouncy payoff, but for the most part, “Civilization” benefits from basking in the gorgeous vocal melodies.
Of course, Fireworks couldn’t resist putting on a melodic hardcore clinic of their very own, with the sub-minute-length of “Show Me Your Vanishing Act One More Time” allowing for them to show off their playfully freewheeling song structures in a compact and enjoyably confrontational way. The lyrics are also a pretty savage dissection of the music industry, the way that mainstream emo and pop-punk bands multiplied and replicated themselves like so many well-manicured boy bands, and the myriad, tiresomely predictable ways bands like Fireworks are often marketed (“Our hearts are not on our sleeves, they’re where they should be”). It’s a bit ironic for this song to show up here as well as on their Triple Crown debut the following year (considering Triple Crown is owned by Warner), but I wonder if this song was more autobiographical than anything else and if Fireworks had any conflicts about signing to a major (not that they should have; selling out is imaginary, you nerds).
Regardless of any ethical qualms or quandaries involved in the label upgrade, March 2009 saw the release of the first Fireworks full-length album: All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion, with production overseen by Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory (the album was also mixed by Paul Miner from Death By Stereo).
How do I even begin talking about this album? I played three different burned CD-Rs of this record to the breaking point in my shitty Discman (shout-out Alex Lasky for lending it to me and then getting kicked out of school before I had a chance to return it). Confusion is an all-too-succinct perfection of this era of Fireworks. Opener “Geography, Vonnegut, and Me” is piled high with lush guitar work, masterfully subtle bass, and fluid transitions from one hook to the next— the bridge consists of three distinct sections all of which could have easily been expanded into full songs by a lesser band. There isn’t one track on this album that deviates from this level of variation, quality, and outright catchiness. No songs are skippable (not even the re-recording of “Vanishing Act,” which a perfect division between the two halves of the album).
We Are Everywhere was a remarkably consistent record, but All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion is a stacked deck from bottom to top. “Come Around” would have been the hit single for any other band; “Closet Weather” is an authentic examination of struggling with suicidal impulses that’s just as catchy as any feel-good-summer anthem; “2923 Monroe Ave” furthers the theme of struggling with depression with a jaunty, bubbly, ineffably anthemic quality (it’s also got those “ba-ba-ba”s that you know I’m a sucker for).
Even a song like “Holiday,” with its down-tempo groove and woozy main riff, probably could have been turgid if it was made by any other band. In the hands of Fireworks, however, it’s triumphant, kinetic, powerful, and vulnerable all at once. That climactic gang-vocal gets me every time, and the song’s relatively short length works to its advantage, especially since its slow tempo and surprisingly thoughtful lyricism provides a solid jumping off point for “I Support Same-Sex Marriage,” one of the strongest standouts on the record— a by-turns cutting and empathetic portrait of internalized homophobia and religious bigotry that culminates in one of the most heartening and effervescent climaxes on the entire record.
“You’ve Lost Your Charm” and “Again and Again” avoid the late-album filler-track stigma through sheer force of melody and strength of performance— the breakdown near the end of “Again and Again” is shockingly heavy, a welcome antidote to the overwhelming carefulness and beauty of most of the album’s pop songcraft. “You’ve Lost Your Charm” boasts one of the best self-motivating lyrics in the entire genre (“You can’t live your life from the sheets on your bed”) as well as a perfect pop vocal performance from Mackinder, who manages to edge into Patrick Stump territory with his delicate phrasing during the high notes.
All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion is an album that feels like your best friend giving you a bear hug in the dead of a miserable winter. It doesn’t lie about its sadness, but it doesn’t let that sadness consume it, either. It’s not quite like the Depression Trilogy, which is actively about the struggle against poor mental health; it’s more like the turn of the corner, when you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. The melancholy and difficulty is still resting on your shoulders, but you feel more confident that you’ll be able to steadily hold that weight, as long as you can identify those people you’ve got in your corner; if you don’t have anyone in your corner, Confusion is more than happy to take their place.
Confusion finishes off with two of the best pop-punk songs of all time. I’ll talk about the closer, “When We Stand On Each Other We Block Out the Sun,” first, because track ten is considerably closer to my heart, but “Block Out the Sun” is still phenomenal— gentle, emo-influenced guitar work combusting into a staccato melodic hardcore pre-chorus and an absolutely mountainous chorus. There’s verses, but they fade into the background of the finger-pointing sing-along quality of the rest of the song, especially the palm-muted breakdown right before the dynamic, suitably restrained guitar solo and a victorious final repetition of the chorus. There’s a fantastic, subdued coda where Mackinder delivers the album’s definitive statement: “My closing speech: fuck your world, I’ll take mine.”
Then there’s “Detroit.” My god, “Detroit.” Most Fireworks songs have this quality to some degree, but it’s on “Detroit” that it’s really cemented and taken to its zenith— every single moment in this song feels like the part of the song where everyone crowds into each other and screams the lyrics in the singer’s face. There’s not one single second of dead space in this track. The playing here is at its absolute peak, too— bass melodies intertwining with dual guitar melodies, which alternate between Midwest-emo arpeggiated tapping and forceful riffing on a dime, and absolutely stunning drumming that owns the atmosphere. And lyrics? Where do I even start? “Being too angry at the age of sixteen turns your early twenties into one of those dreams where you can’t find what you’re looking for” is such a beautiful and poetic line, one that I immediately internalized and understood long before it inevitably came to fruition for me (as it does for every single hardcore kid in the world, I think). “We pray for the worst things, making presidential threats when the phone would ring”? I don’t even really know what that means, but by fucking god if I don’t want to scream it at the top of my lungs. “You don’t need maps when you know where the sidewalk cracks” is the ultimate ode to every single neighborhood anyone has ever grown up in, an intangibly perfect distillation of wistful nostalgia and bracing immediacy; it’s the feeling that I search for in every song, every movie, every relationship (hi Deanna— you’re where the sidewalk cracks for me every single day). I’m fucking proud that I chose it to be symbolic of all my work on this blog, and I hope you are too.
All I Have to Offer Is My Own Confusion is the absolute, indisputable peak of Fireworks’s powers and I refuse to hear any different. Yes, their 2010 farewell EP for Run for Cover, Bonfires, is pretty great (including the DIY ode “I Grew Up In A Legion Hall” and the skittering, aggressive “Seasick”). Yes, Gospel is an extremely well-arranged and well-produced album, a clean and sonically momentous bid for pop-punk stardom that is shamefully, wrongfully overlooked by far too many people (I personally blame opener and biggest single “Arrows,” which is a great song in itself, but is extremely straightforward and conventional compared to both the rest of the record and the rest of Fireworks’s ouvre). Yes, Oh, Common Life is a strikingly mature and thoughtful pop-rock album that should have transitioned the band into the world of emo/hardcore elder statesmen making well-received, poppy indie rock a la Pedro the Lion. I don’t care about any of that when I’m listening to Confusion. It is its own world.
You don’t need maps when you know where the sidewalk cracks.
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