Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Figurines "Skeleton"

Artist: Figurines
Album: Skeleton
Label: Morningside Records
Release date: 2005
Genre: Rock
Style: Indie Rock
RIYL: Modest Mouse, Built To Spill, Pavement

01. Race You
02. The Wonder
03. All Night
04. Silver Ponds
05. Ambush
06. Rivalry
07. I Remember
08. Other Plans
09. Ghost Towns
10. Continuous Songs
11. Fiery Affair
12. Wrong Way All The Way
13. Back In The Day
14. Release Me On The Floor
Total running time: 45' 09"

[Figurines - Open MySpace Standalone Music Player]

[Figurines - The Wonder - Video Clip]

[Figurines - I Remember - Video Clip]

"Catchiness is a card seasoned listeners dislike playing or having played on them. To call a record "catchy" reveals almost nothing. Without it there would be very little left of Guided by Voices, Nirvana, or Buzzcocks, but nor would there be any Ace of Base, Steve Miller Band, or Huey Lewis & The News. Yet, despite endless failures on the behalf of both critics and fans to quantify this ineffable force, "catchy" is unquestionably the word with which to begin on Skeleton, the sophomore album from Denmark's Figurines.

Glossing over this young quartet's infectiousness would mean lumping them indiscriminately into the ever-growing phalanx of Modest Mouse/Built to Spill acolytes. Sure, frontman Christian Hjelm uncannily mixes Isaac Brock's nervous vocal tics with Doug Martsch's nasal croon, and yes, they deploy the same octave riffs and slapdash lo-fi production work that served as a staple for any number of indie legends. But Figurines carve their own niche thanks to an arsenal of refreshing, energetic hooks over a straightforward, non-disruptive palette. While debut Shake a Mountain stumbled over gawky guitars and Hjelm's overly twangy vocals, Skeleton delivers gigantic pop hooks in stride, with charm to boot.

Misleading opening ballad "Race You" encapsulates the band's newfound boldness by copping more from Antony and the Johnsons than from any 90s behemoths. Here, in spurts of tortured falsetto, Hjelm nods to Neil Young circa After the Gold Rush-- though he and his band quickly prove capable of a broader range than stark emoting and classic rock pilgrimages. By the following track, the almost unthinkably hooky "The Wonder", Hjelm is shouting one embraceable indie maxim after another, resulting in one of the sharpest indie rock songs of the young year so far. And this, Skeleton's de facto opener, is where things really begin to heat up: Furious strummed riffs send the song charging ahead anthemically, its guitars emitting fret buzz and pick scrapes like sparks off Claus Salling Johansen's sixteenth-note assault.

From there, the record cruises through a series of familiar indie rock signifiers and off-kilter rhythms, but as with that inescapable signifier "catchy," elements that on paper read as tame or familiar instead congeal into something strikingly refreshing and engaging. Part of Skeleton's appeal lies in the songwriting's lead-to-gold alchemy; most tracks begin fairly nondescript before unsuspectingly blossoming into glorious pop gems. "I Remember" kicks off with a geeky Kinks riff and Hjelm's self-consciously cool drawl before launching into a howling exclamation-- Johansen's guitar soaring alongside Hjelm's ascending hook. Likewise, "Ambush" nods to one of Hjelm's few admitted influences with its CCR-fried blues verse, but again, hooks trump hulk as the classic rock-sculpted verse melts into a quirky sensitive guy chorus on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Unfortunately, Hjelm's hooks only burn so bright for so long, and while several of the album's more adventurous tracks earn points for diversity, some never quite register. "Back in the Day" highlights the acoustic guitar nicely, though all the Led Zeppelin III maskings can't hide Hjelm's uninspired delivery, and "Ghost Towns" slacks off as a midtempo ballad. Despite these tribulations, "Release Me on the Floor" borrows from the tradition of Built to Spill's great closers, an introspective yet jam-worthy number on urban loneliness.

Figurines take a risk with an album built mostly on hum-worthiness, but these hookniks show why Denmark is wise to dedicate a portion of their GDP on promoting the band overseas. Former single "Silver Pond" updates the typically retrofit dead end of jangly power-pop with contemporary signifiers. It's a feat the band manages to pull off again and again, track after track, over the course of Skeleton, and the true heart of the record: making the familiar seem fresh and giddy pop seem like indie manna. Though Figurines won't necessarily be the coolest band you'll hear this year, they may yet become your favorite." [source]


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