Release Date: Aug 28, 2012
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Spoon's Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner are both true coffee achievers: high-energy dudes who tend to write tightly wound songs. So it's no shock that their side band is a genuine synthesis. Daniel's sharp guitar and Boeckner's drone-y keyboard come together on jittery jags that gain urgency by feeling knocked out – from the breakneck Kraftwerk of "The Salton Sea" to the Wire trance spackle of "Neopolitans." On the Boys Next Door cover, "Shivers," Daniel sings about trying not to have a breakdown, against paint-peeling noise – it's a song about coming unglued, from some guys who really ought to spend more time together.
Everything I’m going to write about A Thing Called Divine Fits is a cheat, as was that line. I lifted it from NPR’s Marc Hirsh, who recently confessed that his critical eye turns blind to his favorite artist, Sam Phillips. Lacking any angle to describe Divine Fits other than “It might be the most fortuitous musical pairing in recent history” or an ill-advised Tweet (“having a divine fit to divine fits”), I turned to analogies.
Divine Fits, formed by Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Handsome Furs/Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, has no pretension. Both musicians, though tremendously influential in the indie world, could not be more humble. The duo did not start the band with intentions of escalated fame or fatter paychecks, but rather with a mutual respect for each other’s art, as well as an already established friendship.
Any collaboration involving established musicians that is (un)lucky enough to be called a "supergroup" brings with it all kinds of expectations, both good and bad: either this meeting of musical minds is going to unite the best parts of all the members' previous projects into an amazing whole, or, more likely, it'll be a disappointing clash of musical egos, or a watered-down compromise. Divine Fits, the project of Spoon's Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade, and Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner, and New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown defies all of these expectations, in large part because their debut album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, sounds far too natural, and not nearly showy enough, to be seen as the work of a supergroup. The trio's seamless blend of Boeckner's new wave-y synth pop and Daniel's precision-tuned rock was hinted at with A Thing Called Divine Fits' lead single "My Love Is Real," and that song's starkly, darkly catchy vibe contains the rest of the album's sound: throbbing, understated synths, insistent beats that jab listeners like a finger in the chest, and echoing vocals that sound like they were recorded in an alley in the middle of the night.
Britt Daniel (Spoon), Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs), and Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) deliver one of the most interesting debut albums of the year with their new synth-soaked supergroup. This record is packed with deeply danceable pop songs that in many cases could best be described as New Wave, as they incorporate many of the elements of early post-punk (most notably '50s and '60s nostalgia and strong, melodious hooks) in a clean, commercially friendly presentation provided by producer Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grinderman). .
If there’s something most Caucasian indie rock moguls have in common, it’s that they sure like the Wipers. The Portland, Oregon underground heroes were of the first bands in the post-Ramones era to drape the primitive punk sound with careening guitar textures that were vividly expressive, if almost accessible. They’ve influenced some of the bands we’ve come to venerate as essential, and have wafted in modern rock history with hardly any honorific mention except being right on top of the list of bands that are safe to namedrop for achievement points.
It’s difficult to affix the term “supergroup” to Divine Fits, considering that the group’s members hail from indie bands with less than super name recognition. Yet what this new collaboration lacks in celebrity it more than makes up for in talent, allying the snarky genius of Spoon’s Britt Daniel with the more esoteric style of Canadian pop-rocker Dan Boeckner, the man at the center of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs. Both have been dabbling in well-crafted indie rock for over a decade, which is why A Thing Called Divine Fits is absent of any of the growing pains or false starts one might associate with a young band’s debut.
The wealth of musical experience between Divine Fits – Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner, Spoon's Britt Daniel and New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown – is synthesised into a potent, concentrated electro rock on their debut full-length outing. Pace is key; rhythms are wound taut with ticking, delay-crunched guitars, processed percussion and buzzing digital bass, all shot through with radiant synths and blistered hooks. Would That Not Be Nice and Like Ice Cream offer seductive, strutting cuts, but this record works best when it is aching and ambivalent, as on the throbbing synthpop single My Love Is Real, the thrusting howl of Flaggin' a Ride and the band's snarling cover of the Boys Next Doors' Shivers.
A trio comprised of Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and Sam Brown of the New Bomb Turks could hardly be called a supergroup, even by indie rock standards. But the threesome, along with veteran ’80s producer Nick Launay, have crafted a recording that is certainly super and one of the few meetings of the minds that finds all the members at the peak of their musical powers. Launay brings a full, crisp but never slick sound along with a slight retro approach wholly in keeping with the band’s edgy pop.
A supergroup is only as interesting as the collection of bands it stems from. As such, Divine Fits and their debut record are fascinating; not so much in meaning and concept, rather in the way the two songwriters, Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade) and Britt Daniel (Spoon), work each of their many notable songwriting styles into every song, switching off on vocals, guitar, this and that. This collaboration produces a collection of consistent but familiar tunes that seem hastily thrown together, each instrumental and vocal decision decided by the fate of a coin toss.
A couple of years ago, Britt Daniel attended a Handsome Furs show and struck up a conversation with the band's co-leader, Dan Boeckner. He half-joked that the two should start their own band, which shouldn't be surprising. If you squinted, you'd swear that "Modern World", most indie fans' first taste of Boeckner via Wolf Parade's 2005 debut, could've been a Daniel performance.
I suppose the real goal of a “supergroup”, in a critical sense, is to release an album so fresh and so solid on its own that it makes mentioning the new group’s affiliated acts unnecessary. So, Electronic would rock so hard that I wouldn’t need to write about New Order or the Smiths, or Monsters of Folk would make such transcendent music that I’d forget all about My Morning Jacket or Bright Eyes for the length of an album (would that I could, on that one). A quick thumb-through of your local record store’s used bins should reveal how that version of history didn’t, you know, work out.
Divine FitsA Thing Called Divine Fits[Merge; 2012]By Colin Joyce; August 27, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIt’d be really easy to turn discussion on Divine Fits’ debut record into overlong treatises on the definition of the supergroup and the meaning of the term in the context of the indie music world, but given the record that we have here such discussion may not be the best use of our time. So let’s start instead with some basic facts about the album. Following the dissolution of Handsome Furs, his shared musical project with his wife, Dan Boeckner received a phone call from one Britt Daniel (of Spoon fame) that sparked this new collaboration.
DIVINE FITS play Lee’s Palace September 5. See listing. Rating: NNN Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (ex-Handsome Furs/Wolf Parade) and New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown are Divine Fits. I don't know the circumstances surrounding the union, but this debut is definitely divided into Daniel songs and Boeckner songs.
Divine Fits, if you don't know, is a supergroup / side-project (delete as appropriate, depending which term you think is least pejorative) featuring Britt Daniel of Spoon, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks. Daniel and Boeckner are a pair of tightly wound songwriters, and they've totally avoided the pitfalls of ego-clash and indulgent showiness that can befall typical supergroups. You might expect a group comprised of three members of other groups might sound divergent and pull in different directions, but actually Divine Fits sounds like a band; a really cool band at that, the kind of band that hangs out in a big garage together, playing rock music, drinking beer, and kicking back.
We’ve seen our share of supergroups come and go over the last couple of years: the Raconteurs, Them Crooked Vultures, Mt. Desolation. The latest? Divine Fits, starring Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks’ Sam Brown, who made their live debut in Austin earlier this month. Most supergroups seem to form when the principals get bored with their original bands.
YEASAYER “Fragrant World” (Secretly Canadian) Beyond human voices, natural sounds are scarce on Yeasayer’s third album, “Fragrant World.” Synthesizers and programmed beats define every song, using tones that flaunt their artificial attacks and ricocheting stereo placements. Even the vocals often arrive haloed in effects or surrounded by computer-tuned harmonies. It’s hermetically sealed pop, very deliberately keeping its distance from everyday physicality, and it suggests not an artificial paradise but a well-guarded isolation chamber.
The opening synths of “My Love is Real” recall a style reminiscent of Handsome Furs’ days together. There’s the slinky feel, the thumping nature and the melodic skill that many of the band’s great songs possessed. Halfway through it Boeckner’s voice falls away, after admitting “my love is real…until it stops,” and the synths take a linear progression down the scale into a sublime, hearty, drop.
It’s unsurprising that two scratchy-voiced dudes like Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner, who both like fussing with effects pedals and emotional tension, can coexist. But listening to Divine Fits debut album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, seems like exactly the sum of the abilities of the frontmen for indie-with-a-scoop-of-soul rockers Spoon and recently broken up indie darkwave revivalists Handsome Furs—nothing more, nothing less. For what it’s worth, New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown is keeping time for this outfit, but his role feels like a distant third.This is familiar ground.
If, when Divine Fits announced their "bandness" (coining that term now), you had a hard time imagining how Spoon's studio finesse and Handsome Furs' live-off-the-floor rawness were going to successfully mesh, you weren't alone. From the outset of A Thing Called Divine Fits, it doesn't seem they will ? the synth bips of "My Love is Real" is trademark Handsome Furs-mode Dan Boeckner, and the heavy toms and handclaps of "Flaggin' a Ride" scream Britt Daniel. From then on, they begin to pull it off, blending the Spoon-ish piano riff on "What Gets You Alone" with Boeckner's wail and the incessant synths of "The Salton Sea" with Daniel's raspy croon.
Deemed the latest indie rock supergroup, Divine Fits doesn't so much meld talents as it accentuates individual tangents. Spoon frontman Britt Daniel and Handsome Furs/Wolf Parade hub Dan Boeckner along with New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown find natural affinity in their incessant studio tweaking – disruptions that constantly torque pop and rock melodies into unsettled excursions. Divine Fits is thus aptly named, Eighties-inflected and joyously refusing direction.
A Thing Called Divine Fits is the first collaborative album between Britt Daniel of Spoon and Dan Boeckner, formerly of the Handsome Furs, but the record could also be seen as a pilot for a buddy cop show. Daniel is known for his coiled intensity, built over the 15 years he’s been the frontman for a band that specializes in a consistent type of sleek and deceptively simple guitar-driven indie rock that’s not exactly fashionable but rarely out of style. Boeckner is known for his emotionality, and he spent most of the ’00s trying to fit his rugged, muscular style into various guises including the often anthemic Wolf Parade and the often confrontational husband-wife duo Handsome Furs.