Much like another group of Stravinsky ballet-title nabbing, sensitive-guy types (Washington, D.C.'s The Rites of Spring), The Firebird Suite are (depending on your stance), for better or worse, an 'emo' band. However, despite what the nomenclatural similarity may imply, TFS are not of the same ilk as Guy Picciotto's band of not-so-merry men. And before you get your panties in the proverbial bunch and dismiss their album out of hand, know this: TFS are also not a part of the 'faux wrist-cutter mall emo' flock. This is simply honest, emotional indie-rock, as handled by capable musicians. Sonically, the band rocks a brainy sound that is more indebted to second and third wave acts like Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate, as well as mid-period Cursive and Brand New. You will find no severe, angular haircuts or guyliner here. What you will find with the Missouri bands debut LP, The Matador, is concise musical interplay, along with the hallmarks of the genre, repackaged in appealing ways Drummer Calvin McRoy is the biggest little surprise (that's a short joke, son) in the band, as far as style departures go. Originally shredding skins and doing the eight-armed drummer act in St, Louis' O.G. technical blackened-hardcore wizards Not Waving But Drowning, McRoy proves more than an able hand in his new settings, doling out swing and nuance to the proceedings, along with appropriately timed bursts of muscle and ingenuity. And after doing time in numerous local bands, bassist Scott Collinsworth can drive the bus ala Hot Water Music in their prime, but he hangs with the eclectic changes like a champ, proving he's got more modes than the Super Bass-O-Matic '76. Said changes come in the form of the groups taste for left field stylistic shifts. Both 'Life is Precocious' and 'The Town Bicycle' throw in healthy doses of twang and that Cash/Perkins/Grant concoction that the old-timers call 'that boom-chick sound', as well as wheeling out a deviously authentic tango in the former. All that's missing are the gypsy violins. The latter is also noteworthy because it presents a Harvey Pekar-style vignette that details our man watching as belongings are packed out of his house, and he bitterly invites death and a haunting of ex-lovers on his object of scorn. Elsewhere, the buoyantly jazzy 'Demonic Possession' is only a horn section away from becoming the first Burt Bacharach song in indie-rockdom, if you can imagine Mr. Flugelhorn daydreaming a comeuppance fantasy while simultaneously chiding himself sarcastically for not heeding the red flags of a relationship slipping over the precipice into extreme dysfunction and insanity. Where the band truly shines is in their ability to temper the bleak imagery presented by singer/guitarist Mike McClanahan's oft-grim lyrics. Dudebro speaks from a wealth of hard-fought experience: divorce, abusive relationships, custody battles, depression, extreme physical illness, working at shit, go-nowhere jobs, pining after the ones he let go; it's all there. Where most bands would be tempted to work in shades of black with such cheerless source material, TFS excel at balancing his words with inventive, and at times downright sunny arrangements. When they hit their stride in 'Murder in Jamestown'. bouncing out a jovial Beatles-informed riff, McClanahan opines that 'Mister Resiliency takes more time than I have', you are compelled to believe him, but you feel oddly comforted by it. In terms of sheer song strength, the most effecting is the albums centerpiece and title track. What initially comes off as simple lyrical melancholy reveals itself as a series of carefully framed scenes of claustrophobic depression, wrapping things up with a fatalist, last laugh chorus. To this end, 'The Matador' becomes a poignant, haunted song, painting the portrait of a hollow, ill-starred marriage capped by the protagonists death, while hinting that the deed may very well have been done by his own hand. At times, McClanahan relishes in projecting imagined torments and miseries. At others, he displays an almost brassbound resolve to move past the psychic bleeding incurred as a result of living full time with shockingly damaged goods. Through strong performances all around, TFS succeed in finding the heroic in simply deciding to live and fight, while chronicling to the nth the inner workings of a wounded man. They also deliver a viable, sincere, fractured letter from a genre that, for all it's historic potential and honest merits, is too fast becoming a four-letter word. No mean feat for a first outing. As reviewed by Joey Rackovan.