Five Alarm Funk stepped things up for concept LP

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Who says concept albums can’t be fun? Not Five Alarm Funk’s Tayo Branston, currently riding high on the success of his band’s fifth full-length, Abandonearth, and even higher on a successful three-night run at last weekend’s Boonstock music festival on the shores of Skaha Lake.

“We even got to drive in on a Jet Ski!” the easygoing drummer and singer reports, just before checking out of a Penticton hotel.

Abandonearth is the more important career highlight, however. “We’ve been happy with all our other albums,” Branston says, “but I think in comparison we definitely were able to step it up on the playing, on the production, and on the writing side of things.”

There’s a serious dimension to the new disc, and we’ll get to that in a moment. First, though, let’s let Branston spell out its premise.

“The concept of it—and I’ll try and make this as succinct as possible—is that a deranged ice-cream man taints his ice cream with hallucinogens, and coaxes the band into trying it,” he begins. “Then he takes us on this hallucinogenic trip into the inner sanctums of our souls, where he breaks us down to nothing and builds us back up as his ice-cream army. Along the trail of this psychedelic trip, we travel to the centre of the Earth, unleash a giant Armageddon robot on humanity, and destroy the Earth.

“It’s a totally fantastical idea, but the tunes we have always written, even on our past albums, have always been very thematic and very theatrical,” he adds. “So they totally lend themselves to making a concept album that is ridiculous.”

Buried within the local nonet’s good-natured blaze of Balkan-wedding horns, Afrobeat percussion, and fuzzed-up funk guitars there’s an allegorical fable about mankind’s headlong rush to destroy its only home. On Abandonearth, the end comes when the aforementioned robot invades the Large Hadron Collider, unleashing the Higgs boson particle and creating a black hole that consumes the Earth from within.

It’s an ominous finale, but as Branston says, “We did it in our Five Alarm way, which is light and fun and happy.” Nonetheless, after making that claim he backtracks a bit, noting that Five Alarm Funk has had to step away from playing the 34-minute opus as it was originally intended to be heard.

“When we first started touring the album, we would play the whole album, front to back, and tell the story in between the songs,” he explains. “But we noticed that we needed to break up these songs, because their feel is very aggressive, and it’s nice to be able to intertwine them with some of our older, less demanding material. We’ve just found it makes for a better live show that way.”

After all, despite the band’s stellar musicianship and imaginative bent, Five Alarm Funk exists to have fun. “That’s our motto, and the thing that rules the way we like to write music,” Branston says. “For us, music has always been the release, the happiness that you have in your life.”

Five Alarm Funk plays New Westminster’s Uptown Live! festival on Sunday (August 10).

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