Amber Fults has never found it difficult using music to confront both devastation and joy – her previous releases have shown that she has an unusual instinct for parsing out truth from deception. And this particular aspect of her songcraft is highlighted on her latest record, “Fire Burning,” an EP of songs filtered through the hurt and dishonesty of a past toxic relationship. Fults’ voice has always possessed an immaculate clarity and strength, but here, she reaches down deep into the caverns of her heart to find new ways to express a caustic ache that’s scattered throughout a host of bitter memories.
A singer-songwriter at heart, Fults still approaches this darkness through pristine arrangements and the occasional detour through some folk-pop impulses. Opening track “Fire Burning” sets the stage for everything come, presenting a bluesy stomp that feels acerbic and cathartic as it throws up two middle fingers to the person who caused all this heartache. “Next Time” really draws from the quirky melodies of Aimee Mann in concocting a song that feels buoyant but also wickedly sharp in its proclamation of emotional independence.
With “Ghost of You,” she finds a subtler way of exploring this sense of autonomous self-value. The song is a gorgeous piano ballad with some striking strings which looks at the inherent difficulty of escaping the effects of a bad relationship after it’s over. It doesn’t beat you over the head with a specific mode of thought but allows the words and music to persuade and coax out your own understanding of these volatile situations. “Burn,” however, is exactly what it sounds like – a rancorous and justifiable burst of anger at someone having put her in this kind of position in the first place. You can feel the heat.
She changes gears a bit on the last two tracks: “I Would Rather” and “Sledgehammer”. The former is built on an alt-country shuffle and accompanying pop rhythms, but it’s still unapologetically barbed and finds Fults declaring that “I would rather die alone than be with you.” “Sledgehammer” closes out the EP with a bit of a modernist pop twist, using electronic flourishes, acoustic guitar and arena-ready melodies to convey a last bit of fury at a person on whom she wasted her time and heart.
The record can be rightly acrimonious at times and filled with painful personal experiences, but it doesn’t necessarily wallow in these hurtful feelings – to do so would be to give undue credit to a person who simply doesn’t deserve that recognition. But through her own hardships, Fults has created a collection of songs which speaks to both individual and universal truths regarding the often-unbalanced nature of our interactions with those we care about, regardless of how unknowingly poisonous those affections can sometimes be. She comes out stronger and wiser as a person, with a better understanding of her own emotional health. “Fire Burning” is a record for those who’ve been hurt and relegated to feeling less than they truly are, and it’s for those looking for solace in the wake of that intimate pain.