Handsome Furs are not a message band and they are not political, but Handsome Furs are a message band and they are political.
The juxtaposition of cold, metronomic, electronic beats, courtesy of Alexei Perry, with the jagged, dissonant and frail, broken or breaking, guitars of Dan Boeckner portray what it is to be a human being at the bottom of the 21st century. It underlines the confusion you feel as your best friends are conveyed to you via a series of ones and zeros passing through lines and cables and microwaves; the same confusion felt witnessing the pure, wholesome thrill of a band of musicians pouring their hearts out on stage, through someone's cell phone as pixelated streaming video; the profound and bitter frustration of your long-distance relationship with the world up against a burning, alcohol-soaked sunrise as you admit some things you never thought you would; your constant feelings of inadequacy intertwined with the omnipotence modern technology grants us all. You are there, yet somehow you never are. As we all are and are not.
You are left with a rhythmic and empowering programmed beat interrupted by the warm, reverberating fuzz tone of vibrating strings on wood hit hard enough to shatter skyscrapers. Over it all, a perfectly imperfect voice roars images of landscapes, maps of forgotten continents ripe with history, and you are left feeling as human and alive and wide-eyed as you should be every single morning.
These are not concept albums, but there are concepts: Plague Park was Scandinavia as the couple experienced and envisioned it, jagged and pure landscapes, the melancholy yet hopeful air of April skies shining over frozen tundra, massive pine forests and an always looming Lutheran work ethic. It was slower; evoking images of a glacier creeping over mountains, moulding valleys and fjords, at the same determined and hardworking pace at which the region became populated and that population formed its stories.
FACE CONTROL has a similar geographic appeal, moving on to Eastern Europe for inspiration, echoing through empty skies and frozen plains. We pan over a horizon and see a world rife with signs of human life; bridges, barns, moats, railroad tracks, and towering buildings. And another human element is introduced to the mix, slowly creeping over, steadfastly materializing: politics. Not in the "Fuck you I won't do what you tell me' sense; this is not an aggressive activism or even calm call to arms. We rather face an examination of our current lives and values, and how our collective pasts reflect.
"I don't know but I've been told, every little thing has been bought and sold."
This is the politics of shopping--the politics of control, control, control, of life under constant surveillance, of eternally standing in line for your weekly rations. We are presented with a half-startling meditation on how Eastern Bloc methods and 20th century rationality have managed to spread, prevail and manifest in all of our lives; how there is always someone on the lookout, mostly ourselves; how we have slowly accepted and embraced self-monitoring, happily reporting our every thought and move to blogs and facebooks and myspaces and credit/debit accounts and surveillance cameras and GPS devices. We have built and taken up residence in our own Foucauldian Panopticon. Put in the context of a Soviet surveillance state of total control, modern western life becomes outright eerie.
Of course, there is always hope, and this is perhaps the point. The songs on FACE CONTROL often cast us as the young lovers in the shadow of the system, plotting their escape, revelling in their freedom as the shackles tighten around them. In the past, freedom may have meant jumping a barbed wire fence, or crossing a treacherous ocean or burning desert. On FACE CONTROL Handsome Furs show us that in our modern age escaping these constraints has simultaneously become easier and more complicated. While it once meant hanging on, it now means letting go, and drifting off, refusing to participate in the structure that shapes and dominates so many lives, eschewing traditional values, opting instead to make up their own ways.
Seceding systems, FACE CONTROL is fast and up-beat and soulful and smelly and shiny and real. It inspires movement. It is optimistic. It reminds you: we always have life, the blood pumping through our veins and an easy means of letting it out and showering the world. It is great.
Thank you, Handsome Furs...