For the time, it seems, side-projects are here to stay. If you take a look at any of the large indie bands from Canada (Broken Social Scene, Stars, New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, off the top of our head), they’ve got at least one offshoot, whether active or not. The surprising thing is that, for the most part, these side-projects have done a decent job of living up to the hype brought upon them from their larger, more successful bands. With the Handsome Furs’ debut Plague Park (Sub Pop), Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner joins the long list of artists who have spawned another band while in the downtime from their main gig.
Consisting of Boeckner’s vocals and guitarwork overtop of Alexei Perry’s keyboards and drum machine beats, Plague Park is a reflective and thoughtful look through the eyes of a disenchanted, restless spirit looking for a home. Now able to stretch his visions out through a whole album, Boeckner expands what he started in Wolf Parade with songs like “Modern World” and “This Heart’s On Fire” to complete his dystopian view of living in modern times.
Leaving behind the franticness of Wolf Parade, Boeckner’s writing and voice is much calmer, relying on his strong melodies and lyrics to carry the songs. The album’s best tracks occur when Boeckner is contemplative in nature. “Sing! Captain” starts as a mess of sound before getting reduced to Boeckner’s soft vocals over the simple strum of an acoustic guitar and a quiet wave of noise, the “hollow sound” of a little town. “The Radio’s Hot Sun” provides the album with a bleak ending, the faint sounds of a siren wailing as Boeckner weakly sings, “We know nothing of the other side.”
When “Handsome Furs Hate This City” starts building up sonic layers to its large finale, it is not through Boeckner’s vocals or guitars that we get a sense of impending doom, but through the drum machine. For most of the record he is surprisingly restrained, or possibly more self-assured in his delivery. His vocals for “Hearts Of Iron” are missing his distinct waver, giving the song an eerie seriousness. At the same time, the tinny, precise automation of the drum machine provides the perfect backdrop to examine the monotony of life; a replicated, undifferentiated beat. It is this duality, Boeckner’s voice and lyrics over manufactured beats, that makes Plague Park an exciting listen. This is more than a side-project.
The Handsome Furs play Lee’s Palace on July 31st.