Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Handsome Furs - Face Control (* * * *)

The husband/wife duo of Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade fame), and writer Alexei Perry released their sophomore album, Face Control, this week. Admittedly, I've been a fan of Boeckner's for some time now, though I didn't care especially for the couple's first disc, 2007's Plague Park. Fortunately, Handsome Furs are back with a lean, mean, collection of 12 songs combining Boeckner's signature vocals and raw guitar over his wife's fuzzed-out electronic beats for some impressive results. The new tunes were inspired by their travels through Eastern Europe and show marked improvement over their previous set with a fresher, funkier, electro-rock sound.

The combining of the two artists' styles takes some getting used to, with Perry's synthetic drum sounds bouncing coldly off Boeckner's emotive vocals and gritty guitars, but the songs are consistently strong, and as you become acclimated, you'll find more and more to love. Through much of the album, the squealing guitars take center stage for a relatively more organic sound, as on the rockin' "Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" and the solid first single "I'm Confused." Other songs, like opener "Legal Tender" and the slow-burning "Officer of Hearts" leave the focus on the beats, creating equally entertaining, if less immediate, moments. As interesting as the stylistic clashes and variety of approaches are, however, the best songs are those where the duo mesh more smoothly, as on the upbeat, epic "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything" and the especially fantastic closer, "Radio Kaliningrad." It's probably no coincidence that these tunes also sound the most like Boeckner's work with Wolf Parade, but it's here that the music really takes off.

Not every track on Face Control excels, like the two marginally interesting instrumental detours, but so much of the material is exciting and fun enough that the weak spots don't distract much from the overall greatness of the album. Handsome Furs have created a unique record with strong songwriting, some fascinating experimentation, and a rock 'n' roll attitude that makes this side project one of the more interesting in recent years.

Download: I'm Confused (MP3)