The Anniversary

A Thing Called Divine Fits Turns 10

Merge
2012
Merge
2012

The word “supergroup” comes with a lot of baggage. Historically, there has been the occasional great album, the lightning strike of right time and right place and right chemistry, when a couple of well-known musicians from various projects join forces. But more often than not, the term is thrown around loosely, diluting its impact. More often than not, it connotes a specific kind of classic-rock bloat: the epitome of imperial-era “because we can,” not “because it’s a good idea.” A playground for egos and misfires, or something inert under the weight of combined but incompatible talents.

You could understand why, in 2012, Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner seemed to warily dance around the loaded “supergroup” mantle when journalists inevitably brought it up again and again upon the arrival of the band Divine Fits. The project was fueled by the alliance between Daniel, the longtime frontman of indie institution Spoon, and Dan Boeckner, the scrappy howler who kept two beloved bands, Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, going from the ’00s into the early ’10s. Eventually, New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown joined them on drums via longtime Spoon producer Mike McCarthy, who’d also worked with Brown’s former band the Sun. By the time A Thing Called Diving Fits arrived, 10 years ago this Saturday, plenty of music nerds were ready to embrace the album as very much the coronation of a 21st century indie supergroup.

From the initial pitch, Divine Fits were not the sort of supergroup where you’d worry about shaggy runtimes or aimless ideas; this would be an album with none of the old school rock ‘n’ roll fat left around the edges. In their respective projects, Daniel and Boeckner were both songwriting assassins. Daniel had made his name on spiky, precise indie with bulletproof hooks and vicious economy; Boeckner let the ragged punk in him out a bit more, but while his songs might froth and surge, they were also vehicles for direct and heart-on-sleeve (or fire) melodies every time. If anything, the match was almost too logical once you saw it. Like, were we sure these two hadn’t been in a band together already?

At the time, the origin story forwarded by Daniel and Boeckner was similarly matter-of-fact. Daniel had met Boeckner at a Handsome Furs show several years prior, they half-seriously discussed forming a band over the years, and then eventually it happened. Boeckner had lost two bands, with Wolf Parade’s indefinite hiatus announced in 2011 and the demise of Handsome Furs following in early 2012. But there was a bit more to the story than that, given Handsome Furs was a duo with Boeckner’s then-wife Alexei Perry. The two had split up, and it led to Boeckner crashing with Daniel while the two continued to work on what would become Divine Fits material, bringing their own songs to the mix and trading ideas back and forth. When I interviewed Boeckner in 2016, he got into a bit more detail than in 2012, crediting Daniel for his support in the wake of Boeckner’s divorce; accounts of Daniel more or less coaxing Boeckner into finishing A Thing Called Divine Fits make it seem like he was a friend who helped Boeckner lock back into his sense of purpose after a life trauma.

As a result, Boeckner’s contributions to A Thing Called Divine Fits often skewed towards personal, breakup-oriented material. The whole thing kicks off with the icy synths of “My Love Is Real,” the track most rooted in what would become the Handsome Furs/Operators strain of Boeckner’s writing. Otherwise, the duo arrived at something of a platonic ideal of early ’10s indie, at least in the way they both practiced the form. Boeckner has often worked with foils — most notably his muscular ragers opposite Spencer Krug’s scraggly art-rock freakouts in Wolf Parade, but also with Perry in Handsome Furs and Devojka in Operators. He and Daniel are two guys with similar enough dispositions, which mostly meant they seemed to encourage each other to bring their sharpest selves. (At the time, Daniel stretching out over synth-y pulses on “The Salton Sea” and “Neapolitans” seemed like him letting loose outside his main gig, but in hindsight that foreshadowed some of Spoon’s own evolution to come on They Want My Soul and Hot Thoughts.)

Across the album, each provided casual bangers in their respective wheelhouses — Daniel with crisp and infectious tracks like “Flaggin’ A Ride” and “Like Ice Cream,” Boeckner with earnest synth-shadowed churns like “Baby Get Worse” and “For Your Heart.” Some songs represented the fruits of the two collaborating more directly, like the Daniel-penned but Boeckner-sung “What Gets You Alone.” And every now and then the pairing resulted in a career highlight, like the unshakable groove of “Would That Be Nice,” an earworm up with Daniel’s finest and the best representation of the album’s attempt to fuse “AC/DC and post-punk.”

While there was nothing radically different about either artist in this context, A Thing Called Divine Fits was a warm, welcome hang from two respected musicians, both in something of a wilderness era. Boeckner, obviously, was between chapters upon exiting two groups and only teasing the impending arrival of Operators. Though time has been kind to the reputation of Spoon’s 2010 album Transference, the narrative in the early ’10s was that it had been the first slight dip in the band’s inhuman ’00s quality control; it set them up for a “comeback” when they eventually returned four-and-a-half years later with They Want My Soul. In 2012, Divine Fits could be seen as a side project or one-off, but wasn’t presented as such, with both Daniel and Boeckner discussing plans for more music — especially now that a full-fledged quartet had cohered via recording and touring with the addition of keyboardist Alex Fischel. For anyone invested in either career and spinning A Thing Called Divine Fits repeatedly in 2012, it felt like the promising beginning to a whole new endeavor.

Instead, Daniel brought Fischel over to Spoon, who in turn spent the rest of the ’10s experimenting before re-emerging with this year’s sun-scorched rocker Lucifer On The Sofa. Boeckner spent the rest of the decade building up Operators, who released two strong albums of synth-punk extending out from the Handsome Furs days; Wolf Parade reconvened and released two albums as well. In that same 2016 interview, Boeckner characterized Divine Fits as an active band on his radar even while forecasting Wolf Parade’s rebirth, saying there were hopes of a 2018 album from the Fits. We’re still waiting on that album, but it seems he and Daniel are still pals: Spoon welcomed Boeckner, who’s now also playing with Arcade Fire, onstage at a New York show back in May. These two guys are busy. Who knows if there will ever be a second thing called Divine Fits. For now, the album lives on as the lone document of a pleasant happenstance kind of supergroup. It’s a crossover event fans can cherish as a cult-beloved footnote while still hanging on to simmering hopes that there’s a lot more this collaboration could yield, surprises it could bring out of both Daniel and Boeckner that we’ve just yet to see.

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