Flare – Hung


Some artists feel too creative, too talented for the rather obtuse world of rock music. While the general population likely wants a three-minute pop song to hum idly to while studying or rushing off on errands, these artists are producing vast tomes of work that should be considered every bit as lasting, as influential as the more ‘respected’ genres of classical and operatic music. Yet while those in the know, those with open minds and a thirst for something bigger than a guitar-bass-drum verse-chorus-verse rock song, know and respect these artists, for the most part they toil under obscurity, unable to find the exact niche that will allow them to sell thousands of records.
Into that category, I would place a few well-known independent musicians, and I’m sure that I, too, am overlooking obvious ones for the same reasons mentioned above. But think Nick Currie, he of the ever-changing Momus pseudonym, and Stephen Merritt, who records with friends under the name The Magnetic Fields. You could add into that group the enigmatic Jim O’Rourke, perhaps, and maybe the quirky Jad Fair. Some more recent and prolific musicians will likely fall into that group, including 50s pop throwback Stephen Coates (aka (The Real) Tuesday Weld), folkster Will Oldham, and twisted folkster Daniel Johnston. But place there, too, LD Beghtol of the band Flare, who along with co-producer/musician Charles Newman and a group of talented friends – including the aforementioned Merritt – have crafted what is bound to be one of the best albums of the year and likely an influential work for years to come.
On Hung, Beghtol, Newman, and friends incorporate nearly 70 instruments, including everything from your traditional rock accoutrements to Beghtol’s beloved ukulele, classical strings, pianos, glockenspiels, saws, and a host of assorted keyboards and vintage instrumentation. While lesser musicians can force such instruments to their work, the musicians in Flare do it effortlessly, so that you wonder how Tibetan bells and assorted ukes could NOT be a part of such music. Add to that Beghtol’s impeccably smooth voice, and these intricate songs perfectly take on the melancholy mood of Beghtol’s songwriting. Hung is like a tour of living – and I mean living, not touring, visiting, or thinking about – New York City. “School of New York,” for example, discusses the vastness of the city and how easy it is to be alone among millions of people. On “‘Like’ is a Very Strong Word,” the band explores a new relationship wrought with conflicting emotions, all in a kind of melancholy ballad accompanied by the album’s most brilliant use of strings and nice backing vocals from Aarktica mastermind and former Flare member Jon DeRosa. My favorite song here is the glorious pop of “(Don’t Like) The Way We Live Now,” a cheery take on the state of dating and relationships in the big city, covering the ground from coffee house conversations to chat rooms in a chiming pop song filled with bells, strings, handclaps, and a host of backing singers that includes Merritt, John Wesley Harding, and others.
The overriding theme on the album, however, is love – and then, of course, sex, and then, of course, death. There’s the soft, almost self-depreciating feel of the piano ballad “If/Then,” where Beghtol’s voice is yearning when he sings, “God forbid I’d ever be your fantasy.” (Ida’s Ida Pearle backs the song on violin and viola.) The plaintive “Obvious” seems about a relationship gone wrong, made haunting by the use of saw over soft acoustic guitar and Beghtol’s commanding presence. But as shown throughout the album, it’s the instrumentation that fills out the song that makes genius, such as the plucked cello, the contra bass, tambourine, and various organs. On the sparse yet emotionally moving “Differently Othered,” Beghtol asks the zen question, “What’s the sound of one heart breaking?”
In the end, I suspect Beghtol and Flare can take their place with the overlooked geniuses of indie rock based on this album alone. Already Flare has practically defined the sub-genre dubbed chamber-pop. Hung is brilliant, filled with a host of instrumentation and beauty without ever being overbearing or overloaded, laced with biting realism and cynicism within Beghtol’s poignant lyrics. On the band’s second full-length, Flare has truly developed into the brilliance their earlier work promised. Now the struggle is getting the word out, showing even those who love three-minute pop songs how good these works can be.