Thursday, October 13, 2005

Review: Faunts - High Expectations/Low Results

Are You Familiar? receives quite a few emails from musicians looking to have their music disseminated via the blog community. I post very few of these songs; in fact, so far I haven't posted any. However, when I was contacted by someone from Domino USA, and they actually responded to me personally, I took the time to check out what they had to offer. Not surprisingly - given Domino's track record - it was great, in that punchy Stooges-meets-Britpop way -- you know, the sound Babyshambles goes for, and The Libertines gained so much cred creating in the first place. Well shit, who needs to wait for some waster to get out of rehab when we can listen to this?

The Beautiful New Born Children - Papermill
The Beautiful New Born Children - Hey Heartbreaker!


A version of the following review was published at Cokemachineglow a couple weeks ago. It's the first and last piece I'll ever write for them. Creative differences, or something like that:

High Expectations/Low Results
2005 (Friendly Fire Recordings)

It used to be a bit awkward telling your friends you were into twee Glaswegian pop music. You know, like Belle & Sebastian. Now all the critics are raining praise on the genre's progenitors, including Orange Juice and Josef K, and lately I've heard people reference the (highly obscure) C86 genre with a more reverent tone than ever before. Someone even put a fawning quote - from Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos - on the sticker I ripped off my copy of the recently released Very Best of Orange Juice compilation.

Conversely, telling your friends you're into shoegazer continues to elicit the same sideways glance – indicating pity and disdain – or blank stare it has since the mid-'90s. Who would've thought fans of My Blood Valentine and Slowdive would have been aspiring to the same respect afforded to twee pop?

Since it's fall from grace, blips in the shoegaze flat-line have been few and far-between -- but recently we've seen the stirrings of life, and a resurgence of interest. OK, maybe that's exaggerating, but at least a couple people I know are interested again. Bands like Dead Meadow, Sigur Ros, Khonnor, Sereena-Manesh, and now Faunts have all produced albums that have crossed the line from being formulaic copycats (ala Morr Music's Guitar) to being unique and engaging.

We're not talking about a series of eccentric clicks and pops here; this isn't a redefinition of the genre. All of these bands have the same penchant for layered guitar and delicate harmonies; crashing cymbals and buried vocals; echoed drums and feedback loops. Within these broad guidelines, Canada's Faunts give us something that fits neatly inside the vacuum left by Slowdive's transformation into Mojave 3. Indeed, their press release cites modern Slowdive-alikes Sigur Ros, and then has the balls to drop The Cure into the same sentence. As in, ethereal-like-Sigur-Ros, but pop-like-The-Cure. Balls yes, and they manage to deliver – for the most part - although the 'Cure reference is still a bit baffling.

The ironically titled, High Expectation/Low Results gets cute with us, and begins and ends with tracks titled "High Expectations," and "Low Results" respectively. Between these bookends, the band offers an interesting mix of swirling dirge and pop hook. "Memories Of Places We've Never Been" is a clear standout, and wouldn't feel out of place on The Legends' LP. From the fey vocal and light guitar work to the catchy synth/strings this is an excellent tune, and a worthy first single.

The sad, whispered, "Places I've Found" kills the energy built up by "…Never Been," and brings me to my biggest complaint with the album – the sequencing. With that precious album titling echoed in the track names, you'd figure there was a lot of thought put into how it played out, but there are a few points where the listener is thrown out of the album experience. This isn't a concert; there is no silly banter or guitar tuning here. All we have is the music, and there is very little dead space between any of these tracks to act as a buffer.

Faunts do a fine job of conveying the high-to-low concept. Granted, my analysis is a personal judgement, but on a purely analytical level, they could have spent more time tuning the start/end of each track to better fulfill their intent. With no spacing given to the tracks, the changes in mood are abrupt and jarring. Even throw-away interludes would have been sufficient to carry the album.

While "Places I've Found" evokes shades of Just For A Day-era Slowdive, "Parler De La Pluie Et Du Beau Temps" ("Talk Of Rain And The Good Times") provides a more interesting instrumental soundscape, all chimes and forlorn saxophones. The bass and eventual crescendo bring Pink Floyd to mind in the best possible way -- this is a heavy-handed song that works.

It's unfortunate that the big, crunchy drums from "Will You Tell Me Then" break the flow once again; they sound abrasive when put in context of the album's sequence, but work nicely as part of the song. The relatively weak chorus (which aims to soar) sits as a generic counterpoint to the rest of the reverb and echo in this song, which is graced with a wicked, stadium-worthy guitar/synth freak-out.

I sit here and try to piece this album back together in a way which would make it more enjoyable for me; not what the band might want to hear, but I can't help it. As the songs go by, I think to myself, "oh, if only 'Twenty-Three' was track six, not track seven," or, "I really wish I didn't have so many used glasses in front of my monitor." It's frustrating when the individual elements are so strong. If I were watching these guys play this set over at the club right now, I'd be six drinks in and calling my ex- telling her how terrible I am. Ending on a low is right.

The album, from "…Beau Temps" on, drips with mood. A very depressed mood, with some tear-jerking slide guitar, and a wonderful vocoder effect through "Twenty-Three," which shifts and wanders enough to make it's nine minutes feel far shorter. Following this is the thirteen-minute "Gone With The Day," which drives home the Mojave 3 countrygazer thematic, replete with a vocal delivery Neil Halstead would be proud of.

"Low Results" has more whooshing noises, backwards loops, and the infallible slide. The last quarter of the album manages to fit together nicely, and fades harmlessly into the background as I type. Hey, wouldn't it be nice if one of those tracks from the first quarter snuck it's way in here smoothly - without kicking my ears in the ass - to bring my attention back to the record. What? Maybe I should buy an iPod Shuffle? That's sorta funny, but no.

Faunts - Memories Of Places We've Never Been *repost
Faunts - Will You Tell Me Then