Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Handsome Furs – Plague Park

It’s about time Dan Boeckner sidestepped the growing shadow cast by Spencer Krug. A couple years ago after Apologies To The Queen Mary made Wolf Parade indie stars, Krug went even further through the roof with his solo project, Sunset Rubdown, which (so far) has culminated beautifully in the full-band Shut Up I Am Dreaming. Leaving no side-project unturned, he cozied (again) to Spencer Krug for Frog Eyes’ live/recorded material. (You can hear his bejeweled keyboarding on the forthcoming Tears Of The Valedictorian.) Canadian rockers like to travel in packs, right? You go and ask New Pornographers, while we remind you that Krug and Mercer upped the ‘super’ quotient further when they joined hands with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar to make Swan Lake. (You all know this, but it’s so much more dramatic when it’s spelled out!)

Krug’s always seemed Bowie to Boeckner’s Iggy, so what to do with that line of thought when both Iggy and Bowie are back? According to a Pitchfork interview that other Wolf Parade vocalist was busy listening to Sunn 0))) and digging into Finnish folklore. In true Grimm fashion, he said Plague Park, the debut album from his Handsome Furs project, got its named from a park in the center of Helsinki where a number of victims of the plague are buried (Wonder if he’s heard 1349?). So, has the man behind “This Heart’s On Fire” donned a cape and hood and de-tuned his gee-tar? No, not at all. These nine songs approximate earlier Pink Mountaintops, another spin-off from another Canadian ‘super group,’ Black Mountain. (Seriously, what’s with semi-solo Vancouver dudes evoking that hazy Super 8 shag-run feel?)

But this isn’t some lonesome dude: Boeckner, handling guitar, voice, and keyboards, is joined by his fiancé, the writer Alexei Perry. She takes care of the drum-machine programming and keys and snarls attractively in the band photos. Elsewhere, he’s the more visible of the two, though, largely because it’s his great voice leaking all over the nine tracks; she seems to bring an almost hip-hop/IDM percussive style to the session. (Interesting fact: They not only have a band together, they also have a kid.)

The best songs (“What We Had,” “Handsome Furs Hate This City,” “Dumb Animals” and its feedbacking center) sound like starts to the best road trips imaginable or the ends to hardcore cabin fever? fuzzy and creaking with paranoid small-town/big-town “Let’s Move To The Country” restlessness. Boeckner’s always been a bottle of energy (the guy shakes when WP performs live), so it’s arresting hearing him append the natural caffeine to ragged, low fidelity, homegrown beats (as well as swirling swells of hiss and distorted thumps). Handsome Family + Psychedelic Furs? = Handsome Furs? Actually, sort of ? Or, at least more than Handsome Boy Modeling School + Psychedelic Furs. Though, again?

It’s too early to make big-ass claims, but these songs sound rather … timeless. Though, truthfully, it’s difficult telling time when you’re locked in a tiny hotel room with the shades drawn, which is where we are now, trying hard as we can to absorb this album as quickly as possible in its proper environs. Pass the beer nuts, please.

P.S. The constant Wolf Parade references are annoying but we need to get one more out of our system: Can you have a major Wolf Parade solo project without snakes? Krug has his Snakes Got A Leg and ensuing series of “Snakes Got A Leg” songs. Here, Boeckner offers the dewy ballad anthem, “Snakes On The Ladder.” (Another question: What’s the sound in the background? shooting stars?).

Plague Park is out 5/22 on Sub Pop.