Sub Pop, 2011
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/18/2011
The keyboard, especially '80s-era keyboard, has to be the most derided instrument in rock – so much to the point where if an album features keyboards on it, its artistic credibility comes into question. One of the best examples of how keyboards can affect an album's artistic credibility is with Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA. While still hailed as a masterpiece, the majority of music "purists" will publically say that the stripped-down (and keyboardless) Nebraska was the superior work.
The most telling example this year of how the use of keyboard can damage an album's credibility came with Bon Iver's self-titled album. For nine tracks, listeners were treated to Justin Vernon's delicate, emotive songwriting. But on the final track "Beth/Rest," the song begins with an '80s-era Chicago-like keyboard. The use of keyboards left people wondering if this was a joke or Bon Iver's courageous declaration of his love for some types of music that are ridiculed by the ever-judgmental hipster community.
The fact that "Beth/Rest" could actually be a controversial song is humorous. What's even more humorous is that a genuinely good album can automatically be lumped into "guilty pleasure" territory, just because of its incorporation of an instrument. Enter Handsome Furs' Sound Kapital.
Sound Kapital quickly became a refuge for fans of Wolf Parade, which Dan Boeckner heads along with Handsome Furs. The year, Boeckner announced an indefinite hiatus with Wolf Parade. While Boeckner has juggled both bands for the past few years, it appears now that Handsome Furs is a full-time gig.
The writing on Sound Kapital was heavily influenced from Boeckner and keyboardist Alexei Perry's (also Boeckner's wife) trip to Asia, namely Myanmar. Opening track "When I Get Back" has a fun, bouncing, clapping introduction with a far more sober chorus: "When I get back home / I won't be the same no more." In the song "Repatriated," the throbbing techno beat seems best suited for a packed club on a Saturday night, but the defiant chorus "I'll never be repatriated" is straight out of a street protest.
The entire album veers dangerously close into naïveté with such heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics like "So no more howling at the weather / No more bad dreams kicking." On "Serve The People," the chorus "You don't serve the people" would be laughable at the hands of lesser bands, but Handsome Furs' sharp, cutting musicianship makes it work, miraculously enough.
The knee-jerk reaction of Sound Kapital is "it's a great guilty pleasure album." That statement does the album a disservice, however. The urgent, pulsating "Bury Me Standing" hits like a jackknife. "Damage" whips itself into a frenzy, amplified by Boeckner's guitar. Sound Kapital definitely carries a torch for some of the sounds of the '80s, but the execution is done so well, it doesn't need defending. As one of the surprises of 2011, Sound Kapital can be enjoyed without fear of reprisal.