Singer/guitarist Dan Boeckner first rose to prominence with Wolf Parade, but there’s a reason that band was looked on as something of a supergroup. With two songwriters in Boeckner and singer/keyboardist Spencer Krug of virtually identical stature, Wolf Parade could sometimes feel like a battle royale between two fighters at the top of their respective games. And yet there’s every reason to think that Handsome Furs provides a better battleground for Boeckner to work out his essential agon when it comes to songwriting.
This is because Boeckner is a writer working at reconciling what are often diametric opposites: rural vs. urban, interior vs. exterior, home vs. the road, flesh and blood vs. gears and metal. His songs explore the places where these opposites collide and are reconciled or else destroy each other. It’s the last of those sets that comes to the fore in Handsome Furs, a more electronic, synth and beat heavy endeavor than Wolf Parade.
Against pulses of static and a crystalline keyboard line, opener “When I Get Back” explores the transformative power of travel and the way Boeckner’s raggedly desperate voice rubs against the coldness of the music that redoubles the sense of isolation the song’s narrator is raging against. “Memories of the Future” could be a Robyn outtake — all kick-snare crispness and burbling monophonic synths — but where Robyn would glide effortlessly across such a track, Boeckner’s voice cracks and slips against it. When he sings “Nostalgia never meant much to me,” you get the sense he’s more trying to convince himself than you. In much the way OK Computer’s ambivalence about technology and the modern world was strengthened by its grounding in its own technology, the musical settings on Sound Kapital reinforce Boeckner’s isolation, the feeling that he’s trapped inside the tracks themselves and kicking his way loose any way he can.
Where Boeckner’s guitar comes in, as on the slashing “Bury Me Standing,” it fits better than it has on previous Handsome Furs releases. It’s as fierce and urgent as Boeckner’s voice, but the sense overall is less and less of rock plus dance (which was how 2007’s Plague Park very much came off) and more and more something without a distinct formula or precedent. If anything, Sound Kapital is weirdly reminiscent of INXS singer Michael Hutchence’s semi-political, slightly dance-y and kinda post-modern side project Max Q.
Maybe it’s just because most of Sound Kapital seems like it could be blasting right now in a basement club in Berlin, but Handsome Furs feel simultaneously global and lost, internationally jet-setting and longing for somewhere to call home. But that’s where Boeckner does his best work: crossing borders, connecting disparate things. After all, every running away is also a running towards, right?Visit: Handsome Furs | Sub Pop
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