It must be a truly remarkable experience to make and perform music with your wife, husband, partner, “special friend,” however they’re referred to these days. To successfully mesh your separate talents, to learn to communicate on a music-making level, and somehow bring it all together and make something that’s actually listenable while managing to not drive each other completely nuts—personally, it all sounds like quite a feat. It also seems like a slippery slope—as in, the whole process of making music as a couple could either be a very very good experience or a very very bad experience, as we hear reports of simultaneous couples/bands breaking up about as often as we hear about them staying together.
One of the most recent high profile couple acts to emerge is Handsome Furs, a Wolf Parade side project that’s actually Dan Boeckner and his fiancé, Alexei Perry, who have recently released their debut, Plague Park. It almost sounds too cutesy—Dan from Wolf Parade and his sweet little poet lady friend, creating an album that’s handsome and furry all over. In actuality, it’s a pretty rockin’ good time, landing Plague Park as a demonstration in legitimate musical talent, not just a nice story for Boeckner and Perry to tell their future grandkids.
Of course, there are echoes of Wolf Parade all over this album. In fact, some songs (“What We Had” and “Cannot Get, Started,” for example) simply sound like a harder, dirtier Wolf Parade, a side project without Spencer Krug’s keyboard gusto. However, there is so much to enjoy on this album than the first track would imply—in fact, it leads into a whirlwind of outlandish, experimental, dreamy, archaic pop. I’m not even sure if that fully covers the core of the Handsome Furs’ sound, but it’s the best description I could muster for the time being. Basically, the music simply sounds weird at first, and it’s difficult to make something of it, but, the more I’ve listened to Plague Park, the more I’ve really enjoyed it.
In addition to “What We Had” and “Dead + Rural” (a tune that also has hints of the Arcade Fire, believe it or not), “Hearts of Iron” and “Sing! Captain” boast a bigger, electric-driven sound, like Wolf Parade infused with The National and The White Stripes. From there, songs like “Handsome Furs Hate This City” are a bit like a fuzzier Hot Chip, spliced with scratchy, electronic bleep-bloops that give the album a purposeful yet experimental feel. “Snakes on a Ladder” is the most intriguing and unusual track, where the ambient background mixed with some chime-y backbeats creates a very old feeling, as if the Handsome Furs are attempting to create some sort of historical/fictional portrait via auditory stimulant. This is appropriate, considering that Boeckner has stated that he drew some inspiration for this album from a story of a 17th century plague in Helsinki. In fact, if “Snakes on a Ladder” is taken as a focal point, the entire album could serve as a potential movie score, especially with “The Radio’s Hot Sun” as the concluding track—a stripped, introspective, acoustic tune with Boeckner on guitar and Perry on tambourine, a musical setting for the closing stages of a hero’s journey.
Plague Park is a little repetitive at times, although the album is never boring, and is a reminder of everything good that we have, in fact, all heard before—but this is not a bad thing. If anything, Handsome Furs’ album is a chance to hear an intelligent version of some of the best current music, and by all means, this is no easy accomplishment, and could only be done by truly talented artists. And in this case, talented artists who are also engaged to be married; if their music is any indication of their compatibility as a couple, then it seems like a truly great match. Who knows, maybe Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale will one day make terrible, sweet music together. One can dream.
MP3: “What We Had”