I’ve been itching to make music lately and I’ve created a criteria of sorts on what it would sound like. First and foremost it would make you simultaneously dance and cry. Beats would be basic and bass heavy and would pump thump that heart for you. You would uncontrollably tap you feet, sway them hips, bounce your head and flair those arms. The vocals are earnest, strong, passionate, and tearsome like Nina Simone, Karen Oh, Antony and the Johnsons and Edith Piaf all rolled in one. Chords would be mostly in minor, dark and creepy but still upbeat and there would be nothing wrong with repeating a few chords over and over throughout a song that lasts 23 minutes. Lyrics would be at random, disattached from personal recollection and worldly references. It would take inspiration from Surrealists automatic writing, taking excerpts from Impressions of Africa. It would be described as trancebeatpumprocketherealindiefreak. I’d play ukulele, drums, flute, bass, guitar, and piano. Others would play every other instrument they can reach out to. It would be glorious.
A few days ago I watched Handsome Furs perform at Bowery Ballroom and wondered how my criteria matched up to theirs. Their oeuvre is tragic with a subdued frantic energy, stirring the uncontrollable urge to shake and detonate that ball of fiery sensation but instead taking a nose dive underwater leaving you with a muffled but nonetheless an outburst of explosive body-rumbling. I never listen to lyrics and never really intend to, but Dan’s voice is hyper-earnest, as if warning you, calling you, yelping and pleading with confessional prophesies. The electronic beats are clean and intentional, spastic but carefully compositioned, melodic in its own harmonizing conversation, popping and making me want to jump on my old white bmx, headphones glued to ear pumping and pedaling down Broadway screaming and zooming. But again, there’s a muffled subtlety to this duo’s music that keeps me from going berserk in a prancing euphoria.
I envy the couple, performing together in their cheesy nervousness, Alexei kept pumping her heart with crossed and open hands granting us many thanks for giving them the opportunity to be in NY. She was definitely krunk on something, maybe not, maybe it was the act of performing that got her so frenzied with head banging, pulling hair and hyperventilating, falling to the ground and smiling the way only a person under the influence would smile. But I loved it. I loved when their heads met, cheering each other to keep fucking their instruments and releasing all over our ears and bodies. I love their dirty grunginess, as if they haven’t slept in 2 weeks and have been sustaining a diet of beer and cigarettes. They were high, high strung, strung out. I love the full sound, the full voice, the full experience that is created only by 2 people. I’m actually falling more in love with them as I write about the performance. I’ve never really written about music before but I’m realizing now when it’s music you really like and connect to, it’s closer and more personal than any experience I’ve had with art. I’ll have to think about this feeling some more.
When I make music, I would list Handsome Furs as an influence and also add Bowerbirds to that list. Either band sound nothing like each other, they are probably at opposite ends of a spectrum but I am equally in love with both. True the Bowerbirds show lacked dazzle and pop, I merely swayed and nothing more but I was also more keen and cleansed by the crisp and dexterous string picking of Phil. The sadness and earnest tone of his voice combined with an instrument as melancholic as the accordion makes for a moody and nostalgic vibe that is perfect to listen to in the night to soothe and mellow out to.
Their characteristic minimalist use of marching band bass drums creates enough beat to keep you at attention. Phil and Beth are also a couple but they’re energy is not as frenzied or intense as Handsome Furs. Rather it’s more hipster indie freak folk shy geeky Americana. The drummer seems delicate and I was impressed seeing him pose with the stance of a trained musician whilst weening his violin. He’s got a happy and self-conscious way of singing that kind of makes you swoon. Bowerbirds touches me the way Bon Iver and all those other good indie folks do: with a sly and smooth nonchalance catering to a hint of disturbance.
See more pictures here and below.