Between Two Fires was an obscure New Jersey band that released two records that were completely different from each other. Originally a four-piece, the band self-released a 12” in 1987 in very limited quantities. In true DIY fashion, it came in a plain die-cut sleeve with the band’s name stickered on the front. The second 12” came out a few years later and was also self-released, in a plain sleeve with a very well-done silkscreened front and band sleeve (shades of Eleven Pond, perhaps?)
The songs on the band’s debut are midtempo synthpop tracks with female vocals. The songs sound a bit influenced by the poppier aspects of groups like the Human League and Berlin, with layers of synthesizers and female vocals. While the songs sometimes betray their age with the glittering polished sound of a lot of bands from that era (well, at least as polished as a low-budget DIY band can get), it’s quite an enjoyable record."No Reason" is a solid song, with airy synth lines anchored by deep bass playing that echoes the Cure or New Order. The mellow “In Your Arms” is my favorite, with its layers of tribal drumming and percussion, subdued but effective bass and guitars, and vocals that are melancholy and entirely hypnotic.
After the debut was released, the band suffered from internal strife and two of the four members left - the bassist and the vocalist & chief songwriter. Such a change would undo virtually all other bands, but the two remaining members soldiered on, with the lead guitarist assuming the songwriting duties. The duo expanded threefold, and as a sextet they recorded one final record, the confusingly titled Dirk and the Mercenaries (confusing, because that seems more apt as a band name, and the front cover even seems to indicate that).
The band’s second 12” was self-released in 1990 and aside from a similar style of bass playing, it sounds virtually nothing like the first release. Both tracks are six-to-seven minute opuses, and they looked toward Europe - especially France and the UK - for a pretty big stylistic deviation. Along with fellow New Jersey band Screaming for Emily the B-side of this record is some of the best “touching pop” style coldwave released in the USA. It’s as if the band locked themselves in a room for a year with nothing but the Lively Art catalogue to keep them company.
The track “Ghost Dance” starts off with a Native American war dance yell sampled from an obscure 70s Western film before kicking into a midtempo coldwave song that combines the repetitive drum machines and rhythms of Shadow-era Iron Curtain with melodic but noisy guitars almost completely isolated on the right speaker channel and perfectly dark vocals with a slightly British affectation. While this song does go on a bit longer than necessary without deveoping too much, the B-side “Sand” is the band’s true masterpiece and even at seven-plus minutes it feels like it’s over too soon. Everything about this song is absolutely wonderful – from the atmospheric synths to the quick-paced drums and drum machines to the guitar riffs and the perfectly melancholy vocals.
A quick Internet search turns up absolutely nothing about the band’s debut record (aside from the songs posted on youtube by the band’s original bassist - a huge thanks to him for kindly providing the songs for me to post, and the background info about the band). And there are one or two copies of the Dirk and the Mercenaries record for sale, but no other mention anywhere else… This truly seems to be one of those completely lost bands. Hopefully with this post they will belatedly find a little bit of much-deserved recognition.
Between Two Fires:
Selftitled EP, 1987, Chapperal Music
A1 In Your Arms
B1 No Reason (sagebrush mix)
B2 For Your Love
Dirk and the Mercenaries 12”, 1990, no label
A1 White Eyes (Ghost Dance)
Here's a brand new rip of the band's second 12" from a SEALED copy, courtesy of Frankie at System of Romance!