Album Review: Handsome Furs – Face Control

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The weekends of married life can be summed up by Will Ferrell’s line in his 2003 college classic, Old School. In it Ferrell digresses: “We have a big day planned actually, a nice Little Saturday. We’re going to go to Home Depot, buy some wall paper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that…” But what if you are Dan Boeckner of Montreal’s own Wolf Parade? Apparently you would squeeze in some studio time between picking out flooring and wallpaper. That is exactly what he did back in 2007 with his wife Alexei Perry for a new project, the Handsome Furs. Now in 2009 they are back for round two with their sophomore effort, Face Control. After touring extensively around Europe and making more than a few stops in Russia, inspiration struck to turn what would have been an EP into a new full length.

Face Control is the obvious next step from where 2007’s Plague Park left off. It further separates itself from Boeckner’s full time outfit, leaving behind his trademark guitar sound for something new and more challenging. The live drums have also been kicked to the curb for sample beats to fill the void. The combination is even more of a new wave throw back, caught somewhere between New Order and The Clash. This is the most evident on the Face Control track, “I’m Confused”, with its simple keys and lavishly loud guitar parts. Even the solo fits the bill, being simple yet poignant. The track could easily be the most exciting thing heard from the mind of Boeckner, and that is exactly how the rest of the record plays out.

The guitars are heavier, louder, more distorted, and as a result, Boeckner has to step it up with his vocals, pushing them to match the new direction. “Evangeline” is the perfect example of this, and fleshes out to be one of the best on the album. The record is not just a new direction for the band rather one for Boeckner, personally giving him a chance to reach in all directions musically. “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues” is the first time we hear the duo bridge into the world of old school rock hitting hard with beats and break downs that have you thinking Joan Jett for a split second. Long drawn out guitar notes and sonic distortion take over, keeping the track stripped down and focused on the lyrics which dabble in social commentary with the tag line, “I don’t know but I’ve been told, every little things been bought and sold.”

The Russian influences on the album are everywhere. Even the title is a reference to the narcissistic club culture that thrives in the country that might as well be a continent on to itself. The track “Nyet Spasiba” translates to “No Thank You” and the album closer, “Radio Kaliningrad”, is a reference to one of the eastern seaport towns. The later of the two, while clearly still stripped, hits like a wall with full force guitars and keys overlapping the simple yet driving beats.

Nothing has ever been over the top for Boeckner, and with only his wife to round out the package this time around, we are shown that he has many new faces yet to be revealed. Face Control is strong and is not only a new direction from the last album, but is one for the group in general. Who knows if there will be a third record in the future, but with things progressing the way they are now, it will be interesting to see where they go. I guess it all depends on which country they decide to tour next.

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