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Silly symphonies for the sophisticated

Head of Femur

Head of Femur - Hysterical Stars
(spinART Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 2, 2005

Review by Tony Bonyata

Continuing in a similar fashion as on their 2003 debut album Ringodom or Proctor the Chicago band (by way of Lincoln, Nebraska) Head of Femur have just released Hysterical Stars, a thirteen track collection of askewed pop rock augmented by the rather unconventional use (at least for indie rock) of French horn, viola, cello, harp and other orchestral maneuvers in the dark.
Led by the octet's three founding members (Matt Focht, Mike Elsener and Ben Armstrong - all who share vocal, guitar and percussion duties) Head of Femur have created an album full of catchy and often quirky compositions and, with the help of over two-dozen talented musicians fleshing out these numbers, crafted forty-five minutes of swirling, symphonic chamber pop that's as comfortable feeding the geese in Brian Wilson's petting zoo as it is eating marshmallow pies from newspaper taxis with Billy Shears and Henry The Horse.
But unlike fellow contemporary symphonic popsters The Polyphonic Spree, whose sunny compositions seem to be built around their elaborate orchestral arrangements, Head of Femur instead work their magic first with undeniable compositions such as the heavenly "Skirts Are Taking Over," the epic "Manhattan" and the jaunty "The Sausage Canoe," fleshing them out with lush orchestral arrangements only after the songs have been fully honed.
Knowing when to not overdue the glockenspiel spiel, the band offers up more straightforward indie rock arrangements on the snappy opening track "Elliott Gould Is In California Split," as well as the uplifting "Ringodom or Proctor" and "Percy," a short and sweet ditty teased along by a rather cheesy, yet ultimately cute '80s synthesizer. On the bittersweet "Song for Richard Manuel" Focht's vocals take on the guise of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker before he adds a bit of the lovable whine of Robert Smith on the peppy numbers "Easy Street" and "Do The Cavern," which both revisit the fun-loving, dance-happy Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me-era of The Cure.
Not since Brian Eno took Tiger Mountain by strategy has left-of-center pop rock sounded as silly, and at the same time as sophisticated as this.

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