Like the disaster that occasioned its genesis, Sin Ropas' third release is all about desperation. In August of 2004, the French Broad River crested its banks and threatened the small mountain hamlet of Marshall, NC (population 800). The husband-and-wife team of Tim Hurley (Red Red Meat, Loftus) and Danni Iosello wrote and recorded Fire Prizes in the town's abandoned old library as the river rushed by, carrying away pieces of people's lives. While its elliptical lyrics defy easy analysis, Fire Prizes absorbed the experience into its musical bones. Such dark leanings are hardly foreign to the Sin Ropas aesthetic. Hurley and Iosello excel at channeling bleakness into exquisitely sinister music, having recorded the critically acclaimed Trickboxes on the Pony Line in Rostock, Germany, just miles from the frigid, barren beaches of the Baltic Sea. But Fire Prizes successfully ups the ante, pushing familiar elements into hazardous new territory. Combining the guitar crunch of Trickboxes with the glitchy sleight of hand of their debut, Three Cherries, Fire Prizes roils with roaring guitars, creaking organs, howling voices, and E-Bow sirens, urged along by Iosello's insistent brush and stick work. All but two of the eight songs exceed six minutes, usually unfurling in the languid, stately, smacked-out feel that characterized some of Trickboxes' material. On songs like "Seventeen Times" and "Besuit," the deliberate pace is almost glacial, but always nuanced enough to avoid any suggestion of repetitiveness. On others, like the swirling "Slap the Cage Door" or the locomotive-like "Yelling in Chinese," Hurley's guitar is merciless, a battering ram of thick, sinewy bar chords and waves of processed leads that envelop the listener in one blissful crescendo after another. "Roulette Wild" and "Crown to Stutter" add an Eastern, snake-charmer feel, heightening the hypnotic effect of Sin Ropas' swampy blues and twisted Appalachia mix. Hurley and Iosello write lyrics like half-remembered snippets of nightmares, and cinematic images of helplessness abound. People arrive too late, speak in indecipherable tongues, or are otherwise rendered powerless, as on the elegiac "Peel It Blank," when Hurley's plaintive cry echoes down the outro: "I'm on my back again/Watching it peel you blank." Throughout this remarkable recording, Sin Ropas conjure catastrophic landscapes and threatening scenarios, but deliver them in music so timeless and urgent, hearing it is like a purifying rite of passage. That Fire Prizes couldn't find a U.S. label begs credulity; there were few, if any, better American-made records in 2005.
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AllMusic Review by John Schacht