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Handsome side projectHandsome Furs - Plague Park
(Sub Pop Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 4, 2007
Review by Tony BonyataLet's face it, most side projects by established bands normally just don't cut the mustard. With the exception of The White Stripes' frontman Jack White's brief stint last year with The Raconteurs there aren't many others that immediately spring to mind. So when I heard that Dan Boeckner was taking time off from his Montreal-based indie rock band Wolf Parade (who released their brilliant debut Apologies to the Queen Mary in 2005) to produce a side project with his fiancee Alexei Perry under the guise of Handsome Furs I was less than hopeful for anything near as strong as his former effort.
Well, to paraphrase Gomer Pyle, 'Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!,' because on Handsome Furs full-length Sub Pop debut the two lovebirds have created and arresting album built on six-string discord, mechanized drum beats and Boeckner's guttural musings that in turn give a humanistic touch to the decidedly darker, stripped-back arrangements.
Without the angular twists and turns, quirky rhythms and that one gob short of punk rock that fueled Wolf Parade's debut, Boeckner and Perry have instead created an alien being that still has a human heart beating from deep within the atmospheric haze. Songs such as "Snakes On The Ladder" radiate with humanity, despite the chilly beats and otherworldly electro blips and beeps, while the acoustic guitar that drives "The Radio's Hot Sun" adds a welcome vulnerability to the mix. Combining a neon-lit disco beat with a big reverbing '80s guitar riff on "Dead + Rural" Boeckner's urgent vocal delivery adds a sense of poignancy, while the synthetic chain-gang rhythm lays a solid foundation for the snarling guitar and impish synthesizer to skip merrily across during the hypnotic opening track "What We Had."
Despite the icy minimalist terrain they've surrounded themselves within, this Canadian couple are capable of melting it down with the warmth of humanity and a handful of compelling and challenging songs. And for a side project that ain't too bad.
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