Fires Were Shot
Pieces Of The White Sun






Pieces Of The White Sun is the latest album by the Austin, Texas-based duo of Clay Walton and John Wilkins aka Fires Were Shot (stylized as FiRES WERE SHOT), comprising 12 guitar-based and field recording-interspersed Ambient tracks which are released on It’s Only Me Records in August 2013. The album is released on tape and also comes in the shape of a digital download version. It is available to purchase and fully streamable at Bandcamp. The more recent trend of this decade’s guitar-focused Ambient music leads more often than not to the Drone genre when artists ennoble or camouflage the bog-standard traits of their signature instruments with piles of filters and live-processing. Ben Barrett’s A Onda, Cinchel‘s Isolation Experiments Vol 1 and Tim BassPastures come to mind, all of them created in 2013 and shuttling between space escapades, aqueous encounters and molecular wireframes. Fires Were Shot beg to differ and rarely apply all too intrusive filters. Their Ambient pieces feature an acoustic guitar at all times, with an optional electric guitar being resurrected every so often. The band has a long tradition, with their debut Form The Earth being released in November 1998 already. This tradition has a name and is equally applicable for describing the latest visions on Pieces Of The White Sun: Folknoise. This ought to be the proper genre in which this album better be placed. Ever-embracing thermal airflows, verdured valleys and erbaceous escapisms are the duo’s specialty, with one particular omission being the duo’s biggest feat: there are hardly any drone layers injected! The stringed instruments are used to create loops of two to five notes which float along in glistening ways. Slowed down twangs appear as embellishments only, not as the respective nuclei of the tracks. The result is strongly life-affirming, glowing and occasionally polymorphous. I will take a closer look at all 12 tracks and then link my observations and impressions regarding the album's solar title.


Ground loop atavisms, pre-holocenic seagull screams, a benign mélange of effulgent three-note guitar loops: Before That Time is supercharged with a golden shimmering warmth, depicts bucolic insouciance and relies on piercing drones which cover the interstitial structure of the loop’s core. Finger taps, wooden beats and a coppice of twangs altogether increase the carefree paradigm of that beautiful day everyone longs for, but does not reach. Here, John Wilkins and Clay Walton do not only reach that auspicious state of affairs; they do create it. Everything gleams, rural landscapes and rustic landmarks traverse by. A most streamlined but designedly euphonious opener that sets the tone of the things to come. Gone Fishing continues in that vein, but first surprises with Space-Age Glitch particles in front of a pitch-black backdrop of nothingness. The afterglow of the warm guitar licks wafts into the distance, the textural chaparral is still amicable, but inherits radicles of psychedelica in the shapes of quasi-lachrymose twangs and enigmatic riffs whose tonality is not easy to pinpoint. Twitching and vesiculating, Gone Fishing dishes up the duality of a vaulted field trip. Doesn’t make much sense? Good, then I have somewhat captured one essence of this interlude.


Scattered In The River seems to pick up the loose threads of Gone Fishing and embroiders them into a quiescent background of – yet again – placidity. The four-note coruscations continue to shine, but it is also very clear that the duo of Fires Were Shot is equally keen on worshipping the sustain phases, as every reverberation is celebrated, prolonged and elasticized as if it were to drape the half-mourning melancholia in a diffusely languorous light. The following In The Heavens Meadow is quite the contrast and contravention, as its eupeptic-bustling licks and the implied upbeat tempo turn the album around and much closer to the opener, with heavily oscillating synth-oid space coils bouncing in adjacency to the perfectly earthbound rhizomes of the rich alluvial acoustic guitar soils. I have to admit that the joyous mélange is a tad too Folk-centric for my taste, but dig the tempo; even without the single drop of a beat, In The Heavens Meadow feels lofty and bustling. While Ain’t That Life turns back to a wondrously dualistic tonality of a fir-green forest aura which is then ameliorated by cinematic bass protrusions and a gently pressing meaningfulness that is moulded into each glitzy chord, When Friday Won embeds an aqueous field recording into a first forsaken, then growing, finally fully fleshed out chorus of blissful guitar chords whose rapture is not completely drowned in technicolor rivers but inherits vestiges of contentment-driven nostalgia layers. The wideness of this piece is noteworthy, as is the stereo field, with each of the ubiquitous prongs and flecks having their preferred channel.


Long Match is next and interweaves sitar-like glints of Middle Eastern mirages into galactosamine-augmented guitar scintillae that resemble the raucous playfulness of bubbling engines. Texture-wise, this tune is a revelation and resides somewhere in the ether. It does not reach wraithlike territories, but injects enough weirdness and quirkiness to suggest locating it in a strange place. Now Showing An Orange Setting is the earthen counterpart and contains a rufescent sunset vista over a hamlet or copse of one’s choice. The harmonious acoustic guitar overtones are repeated and mostly unharmed, only the second phase sees a transistor radio-like filter applied to their purity, making them appear a tad more alkaline and brazen. Night animals round off the gaze into the coming night. Up next is Never To Return, and its partly portentous, partly freedom-evoking title is skillfully transformed into music. Distantly screeching electric guitars of recalcitrance and opportunities are enmeshed with their perfectly soothing and mellifluous acoustic brethren. Despite the conflict, the multifaceted surfaces work well together, emanating enough tension and anticipation to interpolate the track’s Ambient placenta. In the oddly titled centerpiece McElligot’s Pool, John Wilkins and Clay Walton create a seemingly mundane reverie that is most certainly based on a real-life site. Two-note motifs run as golden threads through the implied plateau, with serpentine patterns, electric alloys and long-winded shooting stars illumining what is best described as an entirely blithesome place. Despite the additional textures which twirl in close proximity to the base frame, the latter is always audible and unspoiled. The final Thursday Lost turns out to be a polyhedron Dream Pop apotheosis loaded with simmering amplified guitar helixes, rhythm guitar backings and liquid faux-droplets of the strummed strings. Less Ambient-based than progressively yet cautiously Pop-affine, Thursday Lost marks the purposefully indifferent closer to an ample artifact of Folknoise.


Now that each of the 12 vignettes has been analyzed and partially dissected, it would be a pity to close this review without referring to the glaring radiance of the album title Pieces Of The White Sun and contrasting its dynamic incandescence with the alluded pieces of music. One thing is for sure: Pieces Of The White Sun is an astute and highly fitting title for two entirely different reasons: firstly, the power of the sun dries and warms the surfaces of the deliberately simple (but not simplistic!) melodies of Fires Were Shot. Even when a few rays of twilight enter the sceneries and darker spots appear in the underbrushes, joy and contentment are omnipresent and cannot be ostracized from any of the tracks. While compositions such as the opener Before That Time and In The Heavens Meadow are almost audaciously euphoric, the other arrangements are better balanced in that they comprise of different, oftentimes contravening and incompatible moods. The conclusion of these entanglements leads to the aforementioned perception of contentment, of a good stroll without any harms, of contemplative viewpoints of the world and the natural surroundings. Secondly, Pieces Of The White Sun does not only refer to beautiful panoramas found on Earth, but refers back to the solar spectrum itself which, naturally, radiates directly from space. It so happens that the second thread is a cosmic one; tracks like the psychedelic Gone Fishing or Long Match as well as the short instances of digitally reworked guitar strumming few and far between the material show that the duo is keen on a slightly more esoteric, retrogressive New Age-oid kind of spirit. I would have loved these warped particles to be much more prominent ingredients and would in addition have approved of a larger cavalcade of filters and frequency benders, but also have to admit that such an extravagant turmoil would have lessened – or worse: completely neglected – the intrinsic aura. Fires Were Shot do not categorize their compositions as Folknoise out of the blue. And so the unvarnished au naturel complexions remain the significant force on this album as well. 



Further listening and reading: 

  • The album is available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp.
  • Follow Fires Were Shot on Twitter: @FiresWereShot.



Ambient Review 258: Fires Were Shot – Pieces Of The White Sun (2013). Originally published on Sep. 4, 2013 at