North of Northwest: Handsome Furs
The future will need dance music too.
Daft Punk has the corner on the Disney version, with their shiny round helmets and their Tron appearance. But in the darker, dystopian, Blade Runner edition of the future, Handsome Furs will rule the dance floor.
The husband-wife duo, comprised of Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry, will release their third album, Sound Kapital, June 28. Inspired by travels in East and Southeast Asia, continues exploring the themes of 2009′s Face Control: alienation, oppression, and the lingering remnants of totalitarianism in a post-Soviet world.
Here comes the future, it’s violent and bright.
The screeches and beeps of “Serve the People” repeat like an alarm, setting all your systems to alert. “Kids are making noise when the generator’s on / And the cops said move along.” A keyboard screeches an alarm. “You kick ‘em in the head and you kick ‘em when they’re down.” Among Perry and Boeckner’s travels was a trip to famously oppressive Myanmar. This is the music of fear and flight.
Boeckner brought a characteristic anxiety to Wolf Parade, but without Spencer Krug’s moderating influence, the feeling is stronger here. The imagery is everywhere: reference to “an army of bees” in “What About Us,” in the above-quoted lyric from “Memories of the Future.” But it’s even more prevalent in the music itself. The beats are fast-paced and move forward at a rush, often just a tiny step ahead of the vocals and ready at any moment to run off altogether. Boeckner’s voice tends to tighten at the bridges, seeming about to crack under the strain of pressure and fear.
A similar feeling of discomfort is brought by the duo’s homage to the Chinese experience of “rennao” – essentially, cacophony. Perry and Boeckner strive to recreate the experience of walking through a crowded night market, strangers brushing past on all sides, neon flashing, bubbles blowing, and megaphones blasting music and advertisements in interfering patterns. Closing track “No Feelings” erupts suddenly halfway through into an irregular hum of static and fuzz, just after Boeckner proclaims “All my life I’ve always found / It returns, returns to sound.”
But Sound Kapital is not merely a work of fear and resignation. “Cheap Music” is in fact an ode to the future of underground music, to the “thousand lonely kids making noise in a basement.”
Because it sounds right, now that the money’s gone Because we need it just to get along It’s the heartbeat, little heartbeat.
If the future is dark and oppressive, these kids in basements in China and Vietnam, in Moscow and Myanmar will be the rock’n'roll superheroes that save us from it all. And maybe we’ll have Handsome Furs to thank for it.
One final note: my original plan for this column was to discuss my struggle to enjoy Handsome Furs in the wake of the breakup of Wolf Parade, a band I loved very much. As it turns out, there is no struggle. Sound Kapital is an excellent work, and I would have enjoyed it had I never heard of Wolf Parade. And besides, as Boeckner himself sings, “Nostalgia never meant much to me.”
____ Sound Kapital is streaming in its entirety on Spin.com. It will be released by Sub Pop on June 28. Handsome Furs play the Capitol Hill Block Party on July 23. _____