For all the indie-pop bands who paint their sound with a coat of lavish primer, I would like to give you a word of advice. If you’re going to overdo it, be sure to overdo it the right way. If you need an example, just reference bands such as the Arcade Fire, Architecture in Helsinki and now Head of Femur. This Chicago octet/supergroup was incepted by Nebraska natives Matt Focht (vocalist/guitarist of Solar Wind), Ben Armstrong (ex-Commander Venus) and Bright Eyes guitarist Mike Elsener in the wake of the ashes of their previous band Pablo’s Triangle. Releasing their debut album Ringdom or Proctor in 2002, Head of Femur have now officially hit the ground running with their sophomore effort Hysterical Stars, quite possibly one of the most singularly trippy, as well as downright exuberant indie records of the year. This time around they have recorded an album with the assistance of over 20 musicians, some of who have even worked with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Glenn Miller Orchestra, people!!
Hysterical Stars gets its feet wet with near-dance tunes such as “Elliot Gould is in California Spilt,” which skitters around like the Postal Service combined with Sgt. Pepper and the ever-so-twinkling “Percy” with its chirping keyboards, cool ditty, and a good dose of some glockenspiel.
Head of Femur exhibit their chops in the field of mixing south-of-the-border horn sounds with a psychedelic twist on the scrumptious “Ringdom or Proctor” (which didn’t appear on their prior album of the same name) that sways along like a cool breeze peppered with tender violins and sparkling keyboard flourishes. The end result is like Calexico on acid. “Do the Cavern” is equally as squally as it is on par with a game show entrance theme with an almost two-tone ska tempo.
“Manhattan” is lucid psychedelic chamber bliss, owing credit to the solid brass arrangements which carry the song into a symphonic haze of piano balladry. If there was ever one perfect song to flicker your lighter to during a live set, “Manhattan” is the one. It’s so opulent that it should be given an honorary Tony Award. The same could even be said of “Oh You’re Blue,” a song that Gene Kelly would sing and dance to on his karaoke machine if he were still alive today.
The druggy days of the Beatles are thrown in to the listener’s ears on numbers like “The Sausage Canoe,” which is basically what would happen if the Yellow Submarine were hijacked by Syd Barrett and crashed into Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. All complete with the watery sounds and the bubbly choral regiments. Hysterical Stars touches its baroque nerves alongside some arty prog pop on the merry sing a long of “Song for Richard Manuel” and the almost Celtic sounding druggy stomp of “Born in the Seventies.”
Head of Femur even scours pseudo-jazz terrain with the kaleidoscopic ragtime cabaret of the foghorn infused “Easy Street” and the jingly tenderness in “Do the Cavern.”
Hysterical Stars a clear cut archetype for a very peculiar trajectory in indie-pop, as well as psychedelic music, that will arouse the curiosity in the most seasoned of music geeks and the open-minded demographic with an eclectic palate of sound. It could even serve as a good children’s album. Studio engineers Chris Brickley and Dan Dietrich must also be given due accolades to their phenomenal production work on the album, which will no doubt make Hysterical Stars a prime hallmark in both of their careers. One listen to this album will no doubt put the unstable Phil Spector in one of his psychotic stupors, having soiled himself from the impact of envious rage.
The Sunshine Fix – Age of the Sun
It’s a Beautiful Day – It’s a Beautiful Day
The Beach Boys – Friends