Pre-Screening: fun.

Album: Aim and Ignite
Artist: fun.
Label: Self-released
Due Out: August 25th

I'll admit it right off the bat-- I've been looking forward to this one coming out ever since The Format's unfortunate break-up back in 2008. Fresh off my New York Giants' stunning victory in Super Bowl XLII, I happened to head over to The Format's website the following day. The news was shocking, a bit sobering and overall, quite depressing. As far as the future, it was up in the air, only with the slight promise that Nate and Sam would be pursuing their own releases separately. After such a long wait, I am proud to talk about this, Nate's project, fun. Teaming up with Steel Train's Jack Antonoff and Anathallo's Andrew Dost, the project seemingly picks up where The Format left off. Nate's obviously moved on, both from the situations intertwined within Dog Problems, and the band itself, but he's able to work that to his advantage on Aim and Ignite. It's a fresh start for him, and if this effort is any indication, he's going to make the most of it.

"Be Calm" begins rather aptly, appearing fairly calm, cool and collected-- a stark departure from most of The Format's work. The emotional damage is gone, and with its absence, the sense of desperation has dissipated for the most part. Still, the opener does not disappoint from an energy standpoint. Rolling in slowly, but surely, by the halfway mark, the tempo reaches its pinnacle, and is joined triumphantly by an extensive orchestration Format fans know all too well. Next is "Benson Hedges," which was the project's first track presented to the public, albeit in demo form many months ago. Bouncy and building, the song, which starts at a fever pitch, just continues to grow throughout. Nate's obviously excited about what he's singing about, and to me, that's a reward in itself. "All the Pretty Girls" jumps right in afterwards, seemingly taking a more-matured view of Nate's normal observations. As much as there's a ton of auxiliary percussion, horns and strings running rampant on the entire album, one can't help but notice the heavy rock influences, specifically rooted in the 1980s (is it just me?) Handclapping is also a necessity, as Nate puts his first real personal stamp on the record.

"I Wanna Be the One" is our first look into the goofy and corny side of the band. I don't look at it as a bad thing in any way. In fact, to me, these oboe solos, doowoop choruses and other niceties are actually the draw. Nate's at his best when he embraces raw and honest emotions, and though slower than most of the record, this one would qualify as a success. And then there's the first finished song which all fans heard. "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)" signaled to me and so many others that Nate was, in fact, back in action. Any elements he's ever used over his career are on display throughout the fun (no pun intended) and active track that looks to personify the entire record. Triumphant is probably the best word I can come with, specifically when he sounds a bit like Freddie Mercury. Coming right off that, we reach the album's most relaxed and sentimental moment, "Light A Roman Candle With Me." Not a plea, as much as a request, it simplifies our narrator's feelings for someone in a simple action, amongst a collection of others he lists quite extensively.

"Walking the Dog" starts off a bit tropically, and for the most part, it maintains that aesthetic, though I'd never really categorize it as island music of any sort. Rather, it just plays on surf guitars and some caribbean keyboard settings, for another interesting trip inside Nate's head that includes questions about the "Boys of Summer." Then, if you didn't know any better, you'd think the album was coming to a close. "Barlights" is a celebration, if nothing else, about life. It's truly the type of thing you'd come to expect at the end of any album, specifically one such as this. Yet, it's just the warning shot, jazz hands, James Dean references and all. Unexpectedly, it gets very ballady on us, as we are rounding the final turn. The hypothetical tale of two lovers who promise each other they'll grow old together, until one is diagnosed with cancer. Obviously, Nate's not old enough for this to be about him, but it could possibly be about his own father (see The Format's "On Your Porch"). However, I digress. On closer "Take Your Time (Coming Home)," the band busts out all the stops to send us out with a bang. Rock piano, powerful riffs, positive introspection and even some solos create one of my favorite final tracks of the year. That's right, I said solos. It's true. To me, this nearly eight-minute monster is what the effort's all about, and I couldn't think of a better way to close the book on it.

All the anticipation was worth it. To me, at least. For the better part of the album, Nate channels his inner Billy Joel and makes quite a strong rock album that's just amplified by the alternative pop elements blended in. Every track bleeds confidence and determination. At times, it's breathtaking. I wish I wasn't being so sensationalist about it, but well, I can't help it. When you're such a huge fan of a band, you'll take whatever you can get, and in this case, I'm not just picking at scraps. I know that fun. is not The Format, and I'm not asking them to be. But as fun., they've thoroughly impressed me with their initial effort, even if it did allude to sounds of Nate's old band, and hopefully I'll be listening to these guys for quite awhile. If you'd like to reference some similarities, please check out The Format, Queen and All Get Out.

Rating: 8.5/10

Best Track: "Barlights"

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