One of the most well-known stories about Dan Boeckner involves him throwing cheese at G. Love, of Special Sauce/washed-up college-rock fame. Whether there was valid cause to fire the dairy products or it was an act of self-entitlement depends on which blog account of the incident you read, but at any rate, it’s a fairly good indication of the type of person who makes up one half of Handsome Furs: impulsive, presumably brash and probably drunk. The other half writes poems for a living. It makes sense, then, that Face Control finds a way to sound both reckless and introspective, harsh and soft, desperate and hopeful.
While Boeckner’s twitchy guitar work remains his forte, he’s switched out Wolf Parade co-frontman Spencer Krug, his usual song-writing foil, for wife Alexei Perry to co-write and rock a drum machine. Their debut as a duo, 2007’s Plague Park, brimmed with elegant slow-burners whose strikingly downcast tempo separated them from Boeckner’s bread-and-butter band. This time, though, their sound directly descends from Wolf Parade, carrying over the glam and prog-rock tendencies from At Mount Zoomer and magnifying them via the stripped-down microcosm of guitar and machine. “Radio Kaliningrad” grinds out a warped wall of feedback before turning into the fist-pumping soundtrack to a Russian house party and eventually melting back down to static. Hard-edged, industrialized synths blaze through Face Control, but they saddle up against Perry’s deep, pulsating beats, Boeckner’s earnest vocals and countless quieter, vulnerable moments. The constant tug-and-pull of the two aesthetics — essentially shoegaze mixed with post-apocalyptic noise — makes the Handsome Furs stand out among the Crystal Castles and HEALTHs of the world.
For all of his cheese-throwing, Boeckner comes across as a fragile soul. He’s in love: The synths on “All We Want, Baby, Is Everything,” a reference to New Order, breathe in and out, eventually surging forward when he and Perry meet up to sing the title line (it’s her only vocal guest spot on the album). He’s hurt: The 95 second vignette “(It’s Not Me, It’s You)” lifts the steady synthetic clap from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” and melds it with Boeckner’s Bono-fied cooing (“It’s yooooouuu”). He’s paranoid: “I’m Confused” sounds like a nervous tic put to music.
Handsome Furs are a prime example of a band altering electronically driven music into something that sounds human. With a heavy heart, Boeckner delivers the line, “The future is sleek/It is sleek,” as though this realization is the biggest disappoint of his life. Boeckner and Perry aren’t big on technology, a point they make clear in their lyrics — and so Face Control becomes a clusterfuck of sorts, a record synonymous with how it is living in the 21st century, trying to get by in a world equally populated by humans and machines.