Make your own guesses about Firewater's setlist, but there's one song sure to be conspicuously absent from the band's sleazy, uncomfortably hilarious set: "Black Box Recording" takes place inside a plunging jet, where one passenger's biggest worry is not his imminent demise but his nicotine fit. The song was just a bleak joke when the album Psychopharmacology first hit stores in August, but it's bound to seem a little gruesome now, in light of recent events.The rest of Firewater's catalog isn't much cheerier, even when it doesn't touch a national nerve. Yet even though the world is lousy with doom-fetishizing musicians and probably even too full of ironic black humorists, Firewater stands out for its ability to make exotic styles of music submit to an unsentimental touch. The group throws Irish drinking songs, tangos and hints of mid-Eastern folk music into the mix and gets them piss-drunk; the composite effect is punk at its sneering, rotten core. In fact, frontman Tod A's sloppy rasp and his biting lyrics could make him Shane MacGowan's American doppelganger.
Tod got his start in the less playfully grim punk-metal act Cop Shoot Cop, and his sound has gradually lightened up over Firewater's five-year career. Psychopharmacology is less dense than 1997's The Ponzi Scheme, and moments of compassion seep in when he's not looking ("Bad Bad World" portrays two broken souls mending each other); still, the lyrics have bite enough to take on psychoactive drugs, suburban shooting sprees and suicide. The world may have gone madder than Tod ever dreamed, but his noirish punk is still as intoxicating as its namesake and might drown your problems for a brief spell.