Handsome Furs – Plague Park

Handsome Furs
Plague Park

Handsome Furs are a side project of Wolf Parade’s Dan Boechner along with his fiancée Alexei Perry. That’s it, just the two of them and very little in the way of instruments. They aren’t trying to create grandiose songs with great depth but rather simple, repetitive tracks with well-written lyrics. And at this, they do very well.

Boechner and Perry share roles on instruments and electronics while Boechner takes all of the vocals. Backed by a drum machine instead of an actual person with sticks and some stuff to bang on, the songs all ride along on a similar beat and with little fluctuation. This repetition does just fine in many spots but in others it becomes so repetitious that boredom begins to set in. However, luckily they dodge this bullet most of the time. Since this is a superstar writing duo, it seems fitting that they wouldn’t pour all of their attention into the music and would choose instead to focus on the lyrics. The music is sparse, minimal and at times, it even feels cold and a touch bored with itself. This certainly is not a sunny pop album to listen to in the car because you think that you could use some spirit lifting.

The album opens strongly with “What We Had”, a minimal, dusty alt-rock song that immediately sets the tone for the set. The song carries an eclectic feel that gives it a timeless quality however the sparseness of the track doesn’t take away from the catchiness of it. This is not the style of catchy that would elevate it to the highly played list on your local radio station but the kind of catchy where you actually have a desire to hear this particular song. It makes you want to put on your headphones and crank up the volume so that the world around you just fades away. It grabs you with its dark and rich textures while maintaining a certain level of minimalism that is often hard to do well. However, the problem with starting off with such a strong track is that the rest of the album has to live in its shadow.

“Hearts Of Iron” follows up the stellar opener with week electronic drums and a general bored feeling surrounding the electric guitar and vocals. The double-tracked vocals here blend so sweetly that it’s almost able to pick up the song based on voice along but in the end it just doesn’t quite measure up. “Handsome Furs Hate This City” opens with game-like repetitive electronics and static surrounding Boechner’s vocals. Both the Handsome Furs distaste for everything urban and their lyrical strength shows here with “Baby we can get you anything you want/ anytime you want/ but you won’t know what it’s for”.

“Sing! Captain” manages to pull itself out of the musical monotony that begins to surround the first half of the album. The vocals rise up out of a cloud of distortion to tell us a story of discontent and loneliness over a marching beat. “We hate this place here that’s our home/ it’s our home” rings out like a cry for help in a place where no one can hear. “Dead + Rural” picks up the electronic beat and moves a little quicker despite the heavy distortion while “Dumb Animals” drags the tempo right back down again with lyrics as depressed as the music. “The Radio’s Hot Sun” closes the album with a completely unremarkable track that is probably the simplest on the album and thus just fades away, easily forgotten.

The album feels less like an alt rock album and more like an outlet for two remarkable writers. A certain feeling of intimacy surrounds the album that makes it more suited to the headphones of a single listener as opposed to being blasted over speakers at a party. Despite the simplicity and repetitiveness of the album the recipe works – it is surprisingly catchy and we are allowed the opportunity to hear Boeckner and Perry making sweet, if not somewhat dark and depressing, music together.