Hitting play on a Fischerspooner album and turning up the volume can transform your calm home into a dance party for one, but that seems disingenuous to the group’s intentions. On the one hand, this is an act that prides itself on being equal parts musician and performance artists, so you’re not getting the full experience without an accompanying visual component (i.e., the theatrical live show). Still, you’d be remiss to take too seriously a group with obvious nods to Kraftwerk and even Pet Shop Boys.
So how do you treat a Fischerspooner listening experience?
My advice: Enjoy the music on its irresistible pop level, and treat any deeper revelations as bonuses. That might sound too easy or even condescending, but you’ll be far more likely to appreciate Fischerspooner’s latest release, Entertainment. (Is the title apt or sarcastic? That’s part of the fun.)
The New York act is comprised of two visual artists-cum-musicians, Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, and a gaggle of other performers. The two previous albums, notably 2005’s Odyssey, acknowledged the brainier side of dance music with a pastiche of a dozen electro acts over the last twenty years. Still, their music felt like calls to succumb to the dance floor’s thumping siren song, especially with tracks like “Just Let Go” and “Get Confused.” On Entertainment, you’re less likely to find yourself lulled into a state of dance and more likely to find yourself tapping your foot and trying to understand what’s being sung.
The deceptive opening track, “The Best Revenge”, tricks you into thinking you’re about to listen to this year’s answer to Hot Chip’s Made in the Dark. With the drone of synths and bursts of playful horns, the song could work as an effective musical introduction for the album in its own right. But hearing Spooner’s auto-tuned vocals slide in and ask, “How much does it cost to live the life of the dreams? / And how long will I keep wondering how I could be?” is an unexpected delight. It shifts the track from fun to icy. With a refrain of, “Living well / I am / is the best revenge”, the song turns a party anthem into a vengeful mission.
Then you get to the second song, “We Are Electric”, and you can’t help but notice how reminiscent the distorted keyboards recall early Depeche Mode and Erasure. Both here and on “Door Train Home”, the cribbed sounds are enjoyable but obvious nods to past eras that leave you thinking that Fischerspooner can do much better.
And they do. “Danse en France”, for example, is one of Entertainment‘s strongest moments because it’s Fischer and Spooner exhibiting their knowledge of the genre and still putting their own stamp on it. The track begins with a spoken word excerpt that alludes to a broader narrative, but listeners only get tidbits of dialogue about France. Then a slinky groove drives the rest of the song. What makes this track stand out is how deliberately paced it is. Sped up, it could be an infectious pop piece off of any 80s throwback record, but at its plodding pace, “Danse en France” toys with you and serves better as a meditative slow grinder than an arms-in-the-air anthem.
On “Infidels of the World Unite”, another strong track, the band proves that it’s outlasted the genre of electroclash, the cloying term slapped on the band upon its debut. Like trip-hop a decade before it, electroclash was symptomatic of an early millennium sound that wasn’t as prevalent as critics led you to believe. Still, Fischerspooner proved to be more than that genre. “Infidels” sounds like a European club track spliced together with a conspiracy theorist’s paranoid diary entry. Now-defunct Swedish group Zeigeist was often labeled a poor man’s The Knife, but this track alone shows their deadpan delivery over swirling beats is more in debt to Fischerspooner.
Even when the band falters, as it does on the LCD Soundsystem-lite “Supply and Demand”, it’s at worst tolerable. Nothing on the album is bad or bothersome, and while you might think inoffensive is the cruelest praise, here it’s not. In the context of the album, each track sustains Entertainment‘s atmosphere of a chill club full of people too cool to actually dance. As standalone tracks, the mood might not hold up as well. But in an era where iPods have made it easy to splice records to your liking, there is something to be said for a cohesive album that is sequenced well and contains only 10 tracks that help build to an ultimate purpose.