Handsome Furs is that whole mystery/riddle/enigma thing wrapped in a musical quesadilla, a concept “band” without a concept. The Furs serve as a break for Montreal-based guitarist Dan Boeckner during his days away from Wolf Parade and Atlas Strategic. It also affords him a little quality creative time with his wife, keyboardist and short story writer Alexei Perry.
The pair’s first outing, 2007’s Plague Park, was an experimentally interesting work of spare minimalism that set Boeckner’s lyrics of alienation and societal loathing against his insistent guitar and Perry’s simply programmed drum beats. The album attracted an audience among Wolf Parade’s rabid fan base but was hit-or-miss with some critics, who found the album’s chilly presentation alienating.
Anyone who was put off by Plague Park may find more to love on the duo’s sophomore album, Face Control. Inspired by their Eastern European tour (the album’s title refers to a Russian practice of refusing paid club reservations to patrons whose appearance doesn’t measure up to the bouncer’s subjective protocol), Face Control is an examination of Eastern Bloc culture and politics and observes interesting parallels in Western society, which The Furs couch in a slightly more sophisticated sonic context than Plague Park’s stripped back atmosphere.
Boeckner’s vocals sound a bit more hellhound-driven, as does his buzzsaw guitar, and Perry gives the project its beats and synthy undertones, making it like a bluesier, grittier, contemporary demo take on Devo. Handsome Furs don’t have a lot of good news to report, so the soundscape on Face Control is as bleak as it is expansive. But if Nick Drake taught us anything, it is to appreciate the exquisite beauty of melancholy. Handsome Furs offer a similar lesson in a much more aggressive manner.
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