Flare Acoustic Arts League – Big Top/Encore EP2

Flare Acoustic Arts League - Big Top/Encore EP2

Flare Acoustic Arts League - Big Top/Encore EP2

L D Behgtol was and perhaps still is a prominent member of The Magnetic Fields, a band whose unique and irreverent take on alt. folk has, in some opinions, made them the most influential acoustic practitioners of recent decades. It took something to make banjos really sound cool but The Magnetic Fields, with their gently crafted, wistfully romantic tunes and slyly abrasive lyrical twists, did just that and made it sound like the most natural thing in the world. Why hadn’t anyone really done it like that before, I would ponder, when flicking through the array of tales of desire, longing, despair and triumph that constitute the ’69 Love Songs’ album. Really, it felt like a privilege to share the same gravitational forces let alone sounds that L D Beghtol and his seemingly elusive co-creators were making, and that album contains at least 15 songs which I can without a shred of irony describe as classics.

So, while you may detect an element of bias in this particular review – The Magnetic Fields being a band whose adherents will drop practically everything for at the merest hint of their name – I’ve chosen against just quoting the inspirational press release, quoting the words ‘Magnetic Fields’ and just leaving the review right there, safe in the knowledge that anyone else who recognises the name will automatically rush off to their nearest CD supplier and probably buy several copies of anything that’s even vaguely Fields-related. I’ve braced myself, girded my loins, gone the whole hog and actually listened to the CD, while reading the effusive accompanying press release which lists some of L D Beghtol’s collaborators – other Magnetic Fields members such as Dana Kletter, Jon De Rosa from Aarktica, cellist Julia Kent, Sparklehorse’s Kendall Jane Meade and somewhere amongst the ten tracks on what is in fact a re-release of two Flare Acoustic Arts League EPs accordionist Daniel Handler, also known as children’s author Lemony Snicket. Talk about eclectic.

So, what do the songs on Encore/Big Top actually sound like? The answer is really a lot like those of The Magnetic Fields, but in a radically different format. There are numerous similarities in the song structures, the tones of the instrumentation and of course the vocals but it’s a very different band, one whose overall sound is that of a more conventional indie band – something very like the Dandy Warhols was my first impression, or Inspiral Carpets, even Blondie when Dana Kletter takes on the vocals. Blondie never sang a song that contained quite as much barbed venom as “Hideous Ethnic Stereotype” though, and it’s tribute to the skills of everyone involved here that they can carry off such vitriolc sentiments without losing the elements of charm and wry humour that were the notable trademarks of the Magnetic Fields and indeed of Flare Acoustic Arts League. “Last Clown Standing” is a blistering put-down to some unnamed protagonist and exactly what he or she has done to inspire the lyric is left perhaps understandably unspoken: ‘it doesn’t do to dwell / on tales too sad to tell’ runs the vocal over a swirling farfisa riff and nervy guitar that belie the archness of the vocal phrasing.

“Scenario” is perhaps the one song on Encore/Big Top‘ that is most reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields. Enlivened with a brightly played trumpet and a gleefully nasty lyric : ‘it’s only fair to warn you/ don’t look inside the fridge’ is surely the death knell for any relationship, and as memorable a couplet as anything I’ve heard from what is one of the most remarkable canons of songwriting in recent times. Final track “Geography Cure” is a markedly downbeat conclusion to this collection of two EPs that works seamlessly as a complete album, until it develops an added rhythmic build up that’s accompanied by sitar and the song breaks up into a squall of electronics and feedback. One thing about Flare Acoustic Arts League is their refusal to replicate what, they must know, are some very succesful formulas for darkly humourous alt.pop, and hearing musicians as capable as these continuing to explore their abilities makes Encore/Big Top a very rewarding listen inded. We should thank L D Beghtol, Dana Kletter, Lemony Snicket and everyone else involved in Flare Acoustic Arts League for sharing these skilfully realised and memorably crafted songs with us.