With their ramshackle indie-electronic sound, husband-and-wife duo Dan Boeckner (also of Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry, better known as Handsome Furs, made a big impact with the release of their debut album Plague Park. The Montreal natives have now followed it up with the brilliantly-titled Face Control.
Buoyed by a sojourn in Russia’s heartland, the duo named their sophomore effort after a Moscow nightclub policy. ‘Face control’ is similar to dress code regulations enforced at many clubs, except here potential patrons are judged by their attractiveness as well as what they are wearing. The Furs were not handsome enough for some Russian bouncers, as it turns out. ‘The vibe over there is that nothing is sugar-coated,’ Boeckner says. ‘We would arrive at the door with a VIP band pass and the bouncer would be like, “I don’t think so.” The whole experience – trying to get into the country and trying to get to play shows – was summed up by the face control idea.’
Besides the album’s title, there are a few tunes on Face Control that reference Russia in one way or another: ‘Nyet Spasib’ translates to ‘no thank you’ in Russian and ‘Radio Kaliningrad’ is a reference to an eastern seaport town. Coupled with synthetic sonics, the album evokes Cold War paranoia. Dan explains that the album is ‘a travelogue of post-communist countries’. ‘We’d made friends with a lot of people in those countries and got fascinated with the post-communist life that they were living. They were really open to all our annoying questions. For some of them it was really painful, like for our friends in Serbia – they lived through the war – so they were really great to talk to.’
The evolution of sound from their first to second albums can also be attributed to the time abroad. Nights spent at bangin’ Helsinki raves inspired faster drum machine tempo settings and upbeat, synthy keyboards. ‘I was a punk in high school,’ says Boeckner. ‘I listened to all these post-hardcore bands. I’d heard European techno before, but I hadn’t gotten into it. But in Eastern Europe there’s this strain of really cheap, awful-sounding, second-generation techno that is ripping off the European guys. There’s something so distorted and weird about it, like a photocopy of a photocopy, that’s really cool.’
Moreover, the spectre of indie dancefloor lords New Order lingers over Face Control, particularly on ‘All We Want, Baby, Is Everything’. Dan explains: ‘We wrote that song while we were in the Czech Republic. After we’d finished our set they played the New Order track ‘Ceremony’ through this ragged PA system. The Czech kids knew the rhythm but they didn’t know the words, so they were phonetically yelling what they thought were the words. It sounded amazing because it was coming out of these distorted speakers. I was just like, “Man, you know what? We should recreate that!”’
The album also features short, instrumental tracks ‘(Passport Kontrol)’ and ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’. These ‘sound bite’ tracks are the result of a unique recording process: ‘There were a few microphones set up in a room and two channels going into the mixing board. We could go in and any little ideas we had, we could sketch out. We could just turn the mics on while we were jamming.’
Dan says the Handsome Furs are keen to record more instrumental music in the future; in fact, they’re currently recording the soundtrack for a feature film by their friend Scott Coffey, director of the video for their single ‘I’m Confused’. Speaking of that 28 Days Later-evoking, gross-out, zombie-packed video: what was the disgusting black drool oozing from the mouths of its undead dancers? ‘It’s this really lethal combination of baking soda, toothpaste, black food colouring and – I think – lemon juice. It was awful. It was terrible. It was a poisonous concoction.’
Face Control is available online.