In this musically incestuous age where hybrid groups pop up like the exotic hothouse flower, here’s another example, the Austin meets Montreal meets Columbus summit — a thing called Divine Fits, which happens to be the self-consciously casual title of the new album from Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Handsome Furs’ Dan Boeckner, and New Bomb Turks’ drummer Sam Brown. Boeckner’s divorce from Furs partner Alexei Perry effectively deactivated that band, while punk band New Bomb Turks’ brief renaissance (around a decade after their last CD release) was recently interrupted by illness close to the band. Enter Britt Daniel (As far as I know, Spoon is still active, if on hiatus).
So you might be asking, in a trio with diverse leanings, who bends to who musically? And you might not be surprised when I say this is very recognizable Spoon-like music overall, though the opening track “My Love is Real” hints otherwise with its cold, aloof new wave stylings (with a hint of steel drum in the background) and Boeckner’s voice of dread and doom (“My love is real / until it stops”).
But as if to reassure the faithful, the second track “Flaggin’ a Ride” plants us firmly back in Daniel’s wheelhouse, with what I am beginning to think of as a patented Spoon groove, that moderate, funky-cool swagger previously exhibited in such songs as “The Mystery Zone,” “Don’t You Evah,” and the like. I counted four songs in this style, and quietly marvel at how much Daniel and company are able to wring out of this seemingly simple musical trope. It still works! If anything’s different on the surface, it’s the 80’s gloss of synthy textures that adorn many of the selections here.
Splitting songwriting duties somewhat, the Boeckner-penned tunes stretch the group ever so slightly, maybe a bit more intensely. “Civilian Stripes” plays with a stripped-down folk feel, and the epic-as-this-album-gets “For Your Heart” employs both ominously gothy and jittery synths. Also, the band plucks an oldie from Australia’s The Boys Next Door (who eventually became The Birthday Party) called “Shivers,” and while it’s not dissimilar to the original, the slow bop of Divine Fits’ version may have fans of the Aussie band shaking their heads (morosely, of course) at how poppy and upbeat it sounds in comparison.
While I could never call Spoon’s music inaccessible, their last few LPs have happily experimented with more minimalist textures and increasingly cryptic lyrics (that do sound great, though). There’s some of that here (witness the Velvet Undergroundy straight-eighth-note feel of “The Salton Sea” and the album’s finale “Neopolitans,” creatively misspelled and humorously placed next to the track “Like Ice Cream”). But for the most part, whether consciously on Daniel’s part or through the influence of his bandmates, the writing seems more direct than usual, and as for immediacy, this certainly hasn’t been sacrificed. It’s a great listen.
I didn’t realize this record was on the horizon, but was pleasantly surprised at how the work of this seemingly slapped-together group sounds so tight and relevant. It seems ready-made for indie-friendly radio. How long Daniel will don his skinny ties and Ric Ocasek shades (musically speaking) remains to be seen, but for now, they’re a good fit.
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