Artist: Handsome Furs
Label: Sub Pop
Due Out: March 10th
Apparently Face Control is a reference to discrimination by club owners and bouncers who try to limit entry based on affluence and attractiveness. Though I've never heard the phrase before, I'd say it's very appropriate here, with Handsome Furs' new album, Face Control. Picture Wolf Parade, covering trance music and playing in the middle of a night club. Got that visual? That's Face Control, in the best sense of course. Lead singer Dan Boeckner does a great job on this album of using the familiarity of his voice (from Wolf Parade) to draw in listeners, and then, he surprises you, using this side project to explore a realm of electronic experimentation. This pop style, in the spirit of many side projects today, is crafted by a simple two-part group (in this case Boeckner and his wife, Alexei Perry), fooling around with synths and drum machines while mixing in guitar riffs here and there. Though Boeckner does lean heavily on the stylistic constructs of Wolf Parade, there is definitely enough differentiation to warrant a new monicker.
As you begin Face Control, you feel as if you've just entered a rave, or something like it. Pulsating electronic drum beats grab you instantly on "Legal Tender" and don't seem to let go until the album reaches its close. The quickened pace, as compared to Wolf Parade's work, is not as technical or, at times, consuming, but what Handsome Furs accomplishes is giving you the desire to get up and dance- playing on a bright sound that already seems to be the recording norm in 2009. In another break from its "parent band," lyrics are thrown into a sort of secondary role, which applies to nearly every track, elevating the musical aspects and sounds above the vocals in importance. The lyrics are important, don't get me wrong, but in no way are they that critical to enjoying the songs.
After the quick opener, you are carried throughout the record by the aforementioned drum beat, pop hooks on guitar choruses, and a loud sound that would seem to easily fill a room. You may start to notice at one point or another that Face Control begins to resemble New Order, or Wolf Parade covering New Order- an intriguing combination indeed. It's almost a given that Handsome Furs buoyed the sound of this album in the influential alternative rock/new wave group, and the proof is in the name of track five, "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything"; a direct reference to the elder band's work, which needed to be cleared with lawyers and ultimately pushed the release of this album back by about five weeks.
Upon completion of Face Control, I can say with a clear conscience that an updated version of new wave has a place in today's music scene, and it could be in the context of Handsome Furs, and like-minded musicians. For a side project, the band takes a cool approach- sounding very much like its predecessor, while changing the music and genre enough to stand on its own, and exist in a different end of the music spectrum (another example of this may be Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service). After my first listen here, I was interested. After my second, moving with the music. By the third listen, it was almost a new record, as you begin to fully absorb and appreciate all of the sounds surrounding you, that make these tracks what they are. This one's not out for awhile, but, once it is, I know everyone will be talking about it. Similar artists may include Wolf Parade, New Order and TV on the Radio.
Best Track: "Radio Kaliningrad"