Todd Fancey – Fancey

Todd Fancey
Fancey

Although it’s difficult to explain to someone exactly what indie rock is without defining it by the contrast of major labels versus independent ones, it would be foolish and reductionist to suggest that only marketing muscle and a limited budget define the sound of an entire industry. But if I had to reduce the majority of indie-rock history to one conceptual idea, one overriding ethic, that separates it from the majority of mainstream music, it probably wouldn’t have anything to do with the differences in stylistic ideals or even artistic integrity but would, for better or worse, hang on one word: irony.

Interestingly, despite the skillful pop acumen of its creator, the solo debut of the New Pornographer’s guitarist Todd Fancey is probably not most notable for its smart reinterpretation of soft rock conventions but for its utter lack of irony. That’s not to say that Fancey doesn’t do soft rock well, because he certainly does, rivaling the best of the generation of AM radio gold with blissful strokes of electric piano and clear, upfront vocals.

Case in point, the bubbly, multi-tracked harmonies and twin guitar leads of the buoyant “Carry Me” and swaying organ of “I’ll Be Down” are firmly and stylishly frozen in 1973, and the drop-dead gorgeous melodies and immediately palatable arrangements would translate into any pop medium. Similarly, the serene pop and darkly glammy swagger of “Dial Jupiter” and the pedal steel pop balladry of “In Town” are testaments to the textural and creative depth of Fancey’s gifts. Still, just like that generation of music, these songs emphasize pop artifice to the extent that they come off as a bit emotionally neutral, meaning that the strengths of the album are measured solely on their ability to appease the sweet tooth of individual listeners.

To that extent, the album is a bit myopic in its intent, and the quasi-disco of “Sunbrite” and the stereotypically good-natured highway rock of “Rock and Roll Rhythm.” Of course, you have to give Fancey some credit for not using this project to make a caricature of a much-maligned genre of music, and you have to admire his audacity in tackling it with such unflinching sincerity. The bubbly white-boy soul pop of “Saturday Morning” and the picturesque electric piano and cooing female vocals of “Autumn Music” — despite sounding as if they were peeled off the opening of a 70s sitcom – show an artist who takes his translation work seriously. Like the best work in the soft-rock canon, the apparent lightness of these songs doesn’t inherently infer a lack of substantiality, and the hooks and arrangements here prove the shortsightedness in writing off an entire school of more polished pop product. Still, the album wouldn’t suffer from a little well-placed kitsch, and the unshakable pleasantness and fey tendencies grow a bit tiresome by the album’s end.

In the end, probably the worst thing that can happen to a supergroup is to have its individual members all find solo success, as rock history has proven again and again that nothing will break up a band quicker than the complications and demands of actually capitalizing on a modicum of momentary exposure. Given the rock world’s pretty uniform revulsion to soft rock, this album probably is in no danger of stumbling onto radio playlists, which is somewhat ironic, as this type of songwriting nearly dominated the entire decade of the 1970s. As we’ve established, though, this is certainly an album where irony figures very little in the overall modus operandi. And the reason we like irony, in my opinion at least, is that it gives us a rare window into the actual artistic persona of the person creating the art, a singular opportunity to connect with the inherent humanity of the artist. For the most part, Todd Fancey doesn’t give us that opportunity, instead feeding his listeners generously on the saccharine soft-rock buffet he stretches before them. Ultimately, the choice is yours to either gorge yourself or hold out for a more substantial meal.