In a world tour, singular sound
Handsome Furs take after-hours party anthems to far corners of globe
The cover of the Handsome Furs’ new album features a woman standing stark naked in the dim lights of a nighttime highway overpass. Like the origins of grimy dance-pop on the record, that concrete interchange could be anywhere or everywhere. Maybe she’s stranded in Berlin or wandering through Hong Kong, or maybe she’s milling about under McGrath Highway. There are certainly no road signs to help out. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter much - she probably wouldn’t have any trouble catching a ride wherever the photographer plopped her down.
The last few years have probably felt the same to the Furs, who have crisscrossed the globe enough times to lose count. (They perform at Brighton Music Hall on Wednesday.) Living in the shadow of singer-guitarist Dan Boeckner’s full-time gig in Wolf Parade (recently shelved indefinitely), the duo has taken every chance it can to dive deep into former Soviet bloc territories and the Burmese post-punk underground on out-of-the way concert itineraries, hitching rides with every scene they can sniff out.
With its latest, “Sound Kapital’’ (on Sub Pop), the band has assembled a slew of party blasts and after-hours anthems that hint at months spent navigating nameless intersections. They’ve made an art form of the world tour.
“We can travel around strange cities all day long and get back to the hotel and realize we have totally different takes on what went on,’’ says Boeckner, on the phone recently from Sibenik, a coastal city in Croatia.
He and his wife, keyboardist Alexei Perry, have just finished sound check at a festival in an abandoned Yugoslav army barracks. Boeckner tries to explain the fascination with traveling but often gets caught up in reciting tips and retelling details, which say plenty on their own: hiking the Great Wall, meeting hardcore bands from Belgrade, and playing a string of shows in Macedonia (“in some places that Alexander the Great traveled to’’). The present stop in Croatia is no bore, either.
“It looks like a Sergio Leone movie here,’’ he says, referring to the Italian director famous for his spaghetti westerns. “All scrub brush and rocks and the beautiful blue ocean, but then there’s this wind they call ‘bura’ that blows up all the desert dust. You know, it’s like how they have that ‘sirocco’ wind in Africa.’’ Walking behind the barracks during the interview, he accidentally strolls into a field full of snakes.
“Sound Kapital’’ has a lot of the hallmarks of Western indie rock, like dirty home-cooked drum machines and synths and stoic sons-of-Joy Division melodies. But there’s extra adventure shocking it to life with fresh memories of foreign lands and bands. There’s no sensitive navel-gazing or make-believe storytelling in songs like the police brutality screed “Serve the People’’ and the steely world-gone-bad ballad “What About Us?’’ The Furs write songs like real-time foreign correspondents. “Nostalgia never meant much to me,’’ goes the line in “Memories of the Future.’’
Like Handsome Furs’ past music, “Kapital’’ is built on skeletal beats, spare synths, and a static scream of guitars. This time there’s an even stronger electric pulse, though.
“We did a couple of shows in China with electronic acts who played almost early ’90s house music,’’ Boeckner says. “Watching how the audience reacted to that stuff with that kind of relentless kick drum at 120 beats per minute just made us go, Yes, this is what we should be doing.’’
He and Perry spent their 2009 Asian tour patching together musical ideas on hard drives and smartphones, dumping the contents out at home in Montreal. The guitar took a back seat and shows up only in supporting roles or as thematic punctuation, like the skronky solo that twists around the worldwide basement jam shout-out “Cheap Music.’’ The pounding drums filtered through alleyways of reverb and the solid chunks of synth are firmly in control here.
That fact could also serve to highlight the distance Boeckner has put between this project and the unwieldy work of Wolf Parade, which features multiple songwriters grabbing the wheel and putting out increasingly varied collections. The Furs, on the other hand, seem to run a tighter ship than ever.
Boeckner insists that the only thing that has changed, though, since Wolf Parade’s shutting down, is that he and Perry have more time to plan their itineraries.
“That’s it,’’ he says. “Other than obvious things I learned about travel, like how you should drink more water.’’
Matt Parish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.