Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Album of the Week: The Handsome Furs "Face Control"

It's that time of week again. A few more of these, and maybe we can quit calling Wednesday lame things like "hump day" and instead call it "CB Album of the Week day." You think? Maybe.

This week's album is the sophomore release by Montreal duo Handsome Furs, Face Control. The album came out three months ago, so I'm a little late in getting to this one, but I'm right on time for getting your appetite whetted for the married duo's upcoming performance at the Grog on July 17.

As an album, Face Control is significantly different from the married couple's previous release, Plague Park, and from the work of Wolf Parade, which the husband half of the band (Dan Boeckner) fronts. As anyone who has traveled in the former Eastern Bloc probably picked up on right away, Face Control is heavily infused with post-Soviet ideas and themes. (Face control is the de facto rule of law in Russian nightclubs, where whether you get in and where you get to sit depends not only on how much you bribe but also how good you look. I guess, then, it is a lot like the velvet rope club scene everywhere else, then, but a billion times more gauche and upfront.) In the end, it is this Russian/post-Soviet theme that makes the album for me. I've spent a lot of time over there, for one reason or another, and over the years and trips I've learned a lot, much of which I really relish. When I listen to it, I hear great stories and quips about something I've experienced deeply. If the album was about any other place - whether Spain or China, Montreal or Montevideo - it would probably just be a techno album I ignored.

That being said, I'm the only person in America that would probably call this a techno album, but the beats in it are just a bit more techno than I would like. Besides, this is my review, and I get to call the sound whatever like - you object to the techno label, post a counter-review in the comments section. (Actually, that would be pretty cool.)

The album is broken into four sections, separated by a handful of single-track brief musical interludes ("Passport Kontrol," "White City," "It's Not Me, "It's You"), each running only a minute and half or so.

Section 1 features "Legal Tender," a track I could see being a great live tune, perhaps at the beginning of an encore, and "Evangeline," with its great scattered guitar work. "Evangeline" really starts building after the 2 minute mark, leading to a great boogie - I'd pay a lot of money to hear Joan Jett play this song. The star of this section, and maybe the whole album, is "Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" - one can see Annette Funicello's indie rock grandaughter getting down to this in some mumblecore beach movie. The song has a great Woody Guthrie-esque chorus, rich in both song and social awarenes, and its discussion of face control reminds me of when a friend of mine from Yekaterinburg discussed the phenomenon so clearly and matter of factly. The academic in me comes out when I put this track on repeat, and if I was teaching courses on post-Soviet politics, I'd make students write an essay on how this song serves as an excellent post-Putin perspective of today's Russian youth.

Section 2 features "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything" and its well-conceived sampling of New Order's "Temptation" and "I'm Confused," another of the strongest songs on this album, with its danceable (and this from a dude that doesn't dance) vibe and its harkening back to 80s/early 90s UK music. (Note: Check out the video below - zombie love awesomeness!)

Section 3 contains "Nyet Spasiba" (which means No, Thank You, for those of you that have never seen a movie with a Russian character in it). This one could also be fun live, a grand show-closer. "Nyet Spasiba" is followed by "Officer of Hearts" and its easily digable chorus. After the last of the musical interludes ("It's Not Me, It's You," with its funky space effects), the final section of the album begins with "Thy Will Be Done" a cool funk wearing the guitar like a glove, enclosing the rest of the song, and ends with "Radio Kalingrid," with its fucked up church organ intro leading to a song that could be Electric 6 (minus the funny) meets new Kings of Leon (minus the MTV).

The album comes in some pretty cook packaging, especially the young Putin photo cropped onto the back, the record-style sleeve the CD comes in, and a really interesting selection of photographs in an enclosed booklet. I usually don't like to ask syncophantic questions to visiting artists, but when Handsome Furs make it through town next month, there's a pretty good chance I'll come with that little booklet in my pocket, eager to ask questions about the back story behind each picture.

As a rating, this album scores somewhere between the "buy it new next time you visit the record store" and "buy it used next time you see it in the bargain bin" - where exactly it falls between those two ratings depends on how much you dig either Russian/Eastern European contemporary culture or the Canadian indie rock scene.

Check out Handsome Furs when they hit the Grog Shop on July 17th. Check out the album at local indie record retailers near you.

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