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Handsome Furs - Plague Park

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Artist: Handsome Furs

Album: Plague Park

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Aug. 15, 2007

As its apropos title reveals, Plague Park, the new full-length from Handsome Furs, is a series of juxtapositions, and these unlikely unions produce equally interesting and uncomfortable results. The binary of Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner and his fiancée, poet Alexei Perry, has produced a record in its likeness – equal parts charged guitars and electronic beats. Yet, even though the Furs sought to keep their productions to “guitars and drum machine only,” it becomes apparent that music with a minimalist mission can easily feel like there’s something amiss.

Boeckner’s guitar melodies are well thought-out and implemented throughout the record, and his playing is outdone only by his spot-on vocal work. The listless tone of songs like “Sing! Captain” compel a closer listen, and Boeckner’s voice is there to wrap you in the seductive melancholia, welcoming you to the fold: "If there’s a God, he’s a little God / And he holds you closely inside these walls / But he hates his babies most of all."

But despite Boeckner’s vocals, much of the drum programming and electronic textures of Plague Park are tepid and uninspired. Many of the individual drum sounds and synthesizer patches sound cliché, as if the programming did not extend much beyond using the preset sounds provided with the drum machine. That’s particularly unfortunate, because the other musical elements of the record are so beautifully and delicately constructed; the neatly crafted stitches joining one melody to the next cannot remedy the ragged edges onto which they are sewn. These moments don’t ruin Plague Park as a record, but they impinge upon its originality.

After swimming through its plaintive melodies, Plague Park’s nine tracks seem to be over before they reach their potential. The record gets better as it progresses, and successive listens reveal more interesting facets to the songwriting. Enlightenment doesn’t await at the end of the record’s 40 minutes of imagery, but it grips as much as it perplexes.

By Chris Tabron

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