Moroccan Role: Handsome Furs - <i>Plague Park</i>

Moroccan Role

A Totally Kiler Music/MP3 Blog.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Handsome Furs - Plague Park

Handsome Furs are Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade guitarist/co-vocalist) and his fiancée, Alexei Perry. The duo will release their debut album, Plague Park, 5/22 on Sub Pop. While the dust has been slowly accumulating on Wolf Parade's excellent 2005 album Apologies to the Queen Mary for a little while now, Boeckner’s partner-in-crime, Spencer Krug, has remained quite busy during this downtime with various side-projects. These included an EP and the incredibly well-received full length Shut Up I'm Dreaming from his Sunset Rubdown project and the Swan Lake LP with buddies Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes and Dan Bejar of Destroyer and New Pornographers fame. Personal preferences regarding favorite Wolf Parade vocalist aside-- in the wake of Krug's side projects, it's fair to say that Boeckner has increasingly become known as the "other" dude in Wolf Parade.

Accordingly, Plague Park couldn't have came at a better time for Boeckner. He handles vocals, guitar, and keyboards, while his fiancée takes care of the drum machine programming and keys. But, make no mistake, this album sounds like a Boeckner solo project. His disenchanted vocals are featured prominently throughout, sounding fantastic and providing the album a good portion of its appeal. This short effort (9 tracks & 36.5 minutes) is fairly small in scope, but it is, by far and away, the strongest and most consistent Wolf Parade spin-off project to date. And, yes, this includes Shut Up I'm Dreaming.

A distinct big-city/rural tension is readily apparent on Plague Park-- not only in terms of lyrical content and song titles, but within the music itself. The juxtaposition of the traditional "rock" elements (ragged guitars, charismatic vocals) and the more synthetic elements (drum machine and keyboards) underscores this thematic restlessness. The urban isolation and open road escapism described in "Dead + Rural" resonates loud and clear when Boeckner repeats "wheels just spinning in the ground". Album standouts "Handsome Furs Hate This City" and "Cannot Get Started" also highlight this longing for change of scenery, but seem to recognize the fact that maybe what we're running away from has little to do with our immediate environs.

The lo-fi recording and sense of open space only gives these songs more character and serves to showcase Boeckner's unique and compelling vocal performance. Surprisingly, his voice sounds remarkably close to Beck's on a few of the tracks-- see, i.e., the great "Sing! Captain" and, to a lesser extent, "Hearts of Iron". He wisely forgoes any tendency to yelp (like his Wolf Parade brethen Krug) or to employ his Springsteen-esque drawl ala "This Hearts on Fire" from Apologies to the Queen Mary, making significant strides towards finding his own voice in the process.

With both Boeckner and Krug demonstrating they have no shortage of creative juices, the upcoming Wolf Parade album ought to be something special. Judging by their respective material outside of their main gig, it's becoming increasingly clear that one of Boeckner's roles in Wolf Parade is to rein-in Krug's more esoteric explorations and maintain their pop sensibilities. Animal Collective's Panda Bear and Avey Tare most likely share a similar working relationship, although their roles are not nearly as clear-cut. Plague Park is so strong that it just may re-ignite the classic 2005 indie-nerd "Krug vs. Boeckner" debate. Consequently, it's highly doubtful Boeckner will remain relegated to "other guy" status for long.

MP3: Handsome Furs - "Cannot Get Started"
MP3: Handsome Furs - "Handsome Furs Hate This City"

Download the album opener, "What We Had", via the band's MySpace page.

Buy the album here

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