Handsome Furs: Sound Kapital Review
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Sound Kapital by The Handsome Furs.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
It took me awhile to get into the Handsome Furs’ last album, Face Control, and I never really came around until I finally saw the duo live (a medium in which they excel). With the band’s forthcoming record Sound Kapital, however, I am finding the songs much more immediately appealing. Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner’s pulse-pounding synth hooks are rock solid and the songwriting, while not always brilliant, certainly fits the band’s energetic and anthemic aesthetics. It isn’t difficult music. It’s not provocative. It is, however, fast and fun – two adjectives that can carry a sound pretty far.
Where Boeckner and Perry get a little bogged down is when they try to inject political discourse into their message, which on Kapital is often. For instance in the getting lectured about “serving the people” by a rock band in the track of the same name seems a little “Muse-ish”. That particular track does seem to borrow the tune from M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” and therefore also the Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” by definition, so someone could potentially make an argument that the whole tune is some sort of cryptic joke on ”revolutionary” bands. But probably not. Anyway, I enjoy the handsome Furs when they aren’t trying to be too serious, and when they are I just tune out the lyrics and tune in the hooks, which are plentiful.
Listening to “When I Get Back” off their third effort from The Handsome Furs, its almost like they never left. Essentially that’s how Sound Kapital plays, it relies on the song structure rather than confusing you with distorted electro-punk, which in turn is a similar turn that the sophomore release from the Crystal Castles. It definitely capitalizes on the innovations made during the making of their second album, “Face Control”. You can hear it in such songs as the rhythmic wooing exhibited in “Damage,” the tour-de-force of keyboards on “Bury Me Standing”, and the highlight “Serve The People” which builds to a euphoric exuberance. At a tight and focused 40 minutes, this nine song effort by the band definitely does a great job giving us proof that even a two-year absence didn’t cause any drastic changes, and definitely plays well to the band’s strengths.
Even with my deep appreciation of the jagged songwriting of Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Atlas Strategic) and his last two albums with his wife in Handsome Furs, I was a little worried about the news that their new record was written entirely on synths. Boeckner’s guitar work and crafty songwriting make him one of my favorites from the last 5-7 years, but a entire synth based record? I should never have doubted them (especially considering their last album was my favorite LP of 2009). Sound Kapital finds the duo as strong as ever, from the propulsive opener “When I Get Back” to the extended buzz of album closer “No Feeling,” the group prove that even when they go to the extreme of only drum machines and synths, they still have the magic touch. The highlight of the nine song LP is the three song stretch featuring “Serve the People,” “What About Us” and “Repatriated,” which find Boeckner’s songs at their epic best and the group really playing up their collective strengths. Even without Boeckner’s fluid guitar work, the songs on Sound Kapital hit hard and still have whatever it is that makes me like Boeckner’s songwriting so much. While it might not match its predecessor at the top of my 2011 best album of the year list, Sound Kapital will safely have a spot in my top 10, proving again the Dan Boeckner cannot seem to do wrong in my eyes.
Disclaimer: I have never listened to Handsome Furs prior to this week. It’s not intentional; I’ve somehow just managed to miss them. I’ve been a long-time fan of Dan Boeckner’s collaboration with Spencer Krug in Wolf Parade, and some of the musical elements of that collaboration are present here – notably the New Wave influences. For anyone else in my boat, you’d do well to check out Handsome Furs. However, I’d recommend starting with 2009’s Face Control rather than Sound Kapital. While there’s not a bad track on this album, there aren’t any especially memorable ones either. It lacks some of the inventiveness of the prior LP, and it relies much more heavily on synth / drum machine, minimizing guitar and making this sound more like a straight-up disco record. The beauty of Face Control was in the cunning combination of guitar hooks and electronica. Sound Kapital tips the balance, putting them squarely in the synth-pop category.