If the Montreal music scene were a family, they would be illegal in all 50 states, though Utah might give them an exception. With so many super groups and interbreeding side projects, the subtle differences become hidden behind synthesizers, string instruments and stirring melodies. Handsome Furs is made up of Dan Boeckner, Wolf Parade’s earthier vocalist and guitarist along with fiancé Alexei Perry. Moving away from lush, complex, rococo orchestrations, the duo seeks to create an impressionistic painting of two places, rural and urban, in colors of black, red and brown. In the center is a man caught between them, equally depressed in both.
Comparisons to Boeckner’s other projects (Wolf Parade and Atlas Strategic) and Spencer Krug were inevitable. Plague Park clearly sets him apart. The album shows a darker, grainier, stripped-down side of Boeckner as well as showcasing his overlooked songwriting abilities. It is powerful and hypnotizing and unlike much of the Montreal music scene, very heavy.
The importance of Boeckner’s voice is elevated due to the sparse arrangements and limited backing vocals. Though the same sense of lost and longing can still be found, without much of a complementing musical arrangement or something to draw attention from it, the flatness of it sometimes becomes evident. In the chorus of “Handsome Furs Hate this City,” he repeatedly sings “life is long and hard” which comes almost directly from the Chris Carrabba handbook. However, the repetitive nature is usually put to good use. In “Sing! Captain,” Boeckner repeatedly sings the title line, each time elevating its importance and providing us with new insights on its meaning.
The intensity of the album reaches its pinnacle on “Dumb Animals.” Meandering guitar lines support Boeckner’s almost broken “oh, oh, oh” chorus rise into a climax of organ, timpani, triangle and swirls of anguish and thunder.
While Krug had seemed rested and resigned among his failures and fears, Boeckner seems unwilling to stall. Syncopated drumming and whirling guitar create a sense of immediacy and agitation. Plague Park feels like a pile of black, soot covered bricks being dropped on you, but know what? You’re going to like it.