Photo Pamela Littky
We probably should have retired the word "supergroup" well before the Zwan/Audioslave era made a mockery of it. It's now devolved to the point where any band featuring musicians we've already heard of counts as one, whether the result is a truly good band (Wild Flag springs to mind), a gross disgrace (Them Crooked Vultures still make me kind of mad), or a frustrating mess jammed up with unkempt ideas and no real guiding vision (we were really excited about Swan Lake once upon a time, sigh).
Divine Fits are a new rock band that happens to feature some people you've heard of. Primarily Britt Daniel from Spoon and Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs. Their debut record, A Thing Called Divine Fits, is the rare collaboration of this sort that makes as much sense in practice as it does on paper. Both Daniel and Boeckner are sharp minimalists in a rock underground that's alternately moved toward being over-orchestrated or chronically fuzzy. Spoon has remained pretty stridently guitar-based over the years, while Boeckner has been synth-punk for more than a minute, but you can already imagine these guys in a combined creative space pretty easily. (Just use guitars and synths, fellas!) But it's a pleasure to say that what they churned out goes way beyond passably cohering. A Thing Called Divine Fits might be the best rock record I’ve heard all year.
On its first half, Boeckner dominates vocally. It initially seems like it might be a famous pal giving a hand to a colleague left suddenly band-less. On the terrific opening track, “My Love Is Real,” Boeckner provides a seemingly stark window into the widely assumed collapse of Handsome Furs. Over small-scale synth tones that would have well-suited a new Furs record, he barks, “My love is real… until it stops.” Which, whoa: harsh, sad. The Boeckner-fronted tracks are rewarding to those of us who’ve followed him post-Wolf Parade, in that even in synth-driven songs he’s given the tightest, most formidable rhythm section he’s had at least since Wolf Parade and maybe forever. Drummer Sam Brown doesn’t go full-blown Bonham or anything, but his spare, forceful playing is a huge jump up from the broken drum machines Dan has relied on for years.
As befits his even cooler remove, Daniel really comes on in the record's second half. If there’s a better version of half-speed bar-rock than their cover of The Boys Next Door’s “Shivers,” I don’t want to know about it. (Wait, that’s a super dumb saying. Of course I do!) This material isn’t quite as immaculately studio-perfectionist as the best Spoon records, but that's true of almost anything. And the willful wandering quality here highlights the emotional content of his voice in a way that Spoon can sometimes refuse to.
They’re a real-deal rock band, and a damn good one. If, in the grand march of time, Divine Fits turn out to be just a one-off side-project, or heaven forbid, just another forgotten "supergroup" listed on Wikipedia, it'll be a crying shame.
Divine Fits play Music Hall of Williamsburg on September 9