Dan Boeckner has his vein of indie rock pretty well established – his cracked yelp can make any trite exclamation into an undeniable anthem (see: “This Heart’s On Fire) and his sense of melody always presents itself as complicated, but tends to just be simple, fleeting and transforming (see: “Language City“, “Soldier’s Grin”). This niche is mostly rooted in Wolf Parade, a project that heads the prolific resumes of both Spencer Krug and Boeckner. And where Krug has Sunset Rubdown, Boeckner has Handsome Furs, a husband-and-wife collaboration with writer/keyboardist Alexei Perry.
In the past this project has been a narrowly focused form of Boeckner’s indulgences. Never bent on virtuosity or accessibility, his work rides a hard eccentric edge and the more skeletal arrangements put forth by Handsome Furs didn’t leave listeners much to latch onto without the dedication required for repeated attentive visits. Sound Kapital presents a sea change, seemingly a result of the pair’s conscious decision to write the album exclusively with keyboards, leaving Boeckner’s axe in its case for nearly the whole of Sound Kapital.
This leaves us with something that resembles Cut Copy’s sense of ’80s-style electronic melody, only instead of their glossy presentation, Handsome Furs presents that sensibility through a European, industrious filter. In other words, it’s something of a bizarro-Robyn, taking her pure white imagery and tainting it derelict. “When I Get Back” opens with an electronic exclamation point, a blindsiding gut-check to expectations. As I’ve mentioned, Boeckner’s work has always been simple, yet this level of user-friendliness is unheard of. There’s a danceable immediacy here that was often weighted down by abstraction on previous releases.
The austere accessibility established on the opener continues, though the synths never again reach that grandeur, more often providing an undercurrent on slow-churners like “Damage” and “Bury Me Standing,” where the track’s visceral nature surfaces not through volume but instead sober agitation. An unabashed political flair takes over the lyrics at times (especially in the literal and figurative centerpieces of the album: “Memories of the Future” and “Serve the People”) which shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with the couple and their journalistic hobbies – e.g. starring in a web travelogue for CNN.com.
As far as the duo is concerned, it finally feels like they’ve arrived at a unique identity to call their own, so as to crawl out from the shadow of Boeckner’s work with Wolf Parade and transcend the designation as mere side-project. And as for Boeckner, this will undoubtedly receive polarized reactions – die-hards could be turned off by the stark shift to ’80s electronic influences, meanwhile, others who have never been able to break through his eccentric brand of art-rock may finally have something to grab onto in his catalogue. Regardless of which side of that fence you land on, there’s no denying that Boeckner is most certainly still making worthwhile, interesting rock music.
Bright Eyes – Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
Cut Copy – Bright Like Neon Love
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture & Morality
Stream: Handsome Furs – “What About Us”