The Boxing Lesson
Best-laid plans, right? I wasn't planning on doing a writeup of the new release by The Boxing Lesson; I'm a bit snowed under with all of the Halloween and Fun Fun Fun Fest activity streaming to my inbox. It's not as if the band is unworthy of my attention, but unlike most other unsigned new music acts in Austin they have dedicated and professional management (The Loyalty Firm) and they're getting their fair share of coverage for Fur State.
But then I sat down and listened to the album! I haven't been much drawn in by the Boxing Lesson's more extroverted, vocal-driven songs. There's a lot of anonymous-sounding, producer-driven rock in Austin (and everywhere) and what I've heard of later Boxing Lesson releases doesn't do a ton to separate itself from Beautiful Supermachines, Baby Robots, TV Torso, or a kajillion others. The only thing that really stood out to me about them was a negative... annoying vocals. Fur State is a completely different animal. All-instrumental, it was recorded during the duo's first months in Austin with a cadged-together roster of equipment. It was recorded on and mastered to cassette tape, and has a warm running buzz that's only one of its atypical qualities.
If you've paged through a Demo Sweat column or two you may know that I have a built-up resistance to fiddly, ambient bedroom-type recordings. My usual response to music of this type is to feel that if the musician hardly expended any effort making it, why should I care listening to it? I like bands and arrangements and interaction between instruments, not layers and layers of repeating loops. Fur State dramatically improves on the clichés rampant in these sorts of projects. Other than the torpid "Six" each of these tracks is compelling and distinctive. The tunes develop, with certain instrumental tones being phased out and others taking their place. I didn't find my attention wavering at any moment listening to most of these pieces, which sound far more like finished songs than I was given to expect. There's a flat-out rocker in "Three," and the dance-inflected "Five," with its beautiful guitar tone, is reminiscent of The Sea and Cake at their lazy-Sunday best. In the context of all of the other highly engaging tracks, the spooky audio collage "Seven" strikes the ear just right even though it's essentially ten minutes of voicemail messages.
What really sets this album apart is how each number sounds like a performance. The guitar and keyboard parts consistently last for just the right amount of time, and they also have movement within themselves -- each figure doesn't sound spat out of a computer but rather played by a human. It's not just intriguing listening to how all of the lean melodies stack up over one another, but how tiny little embellishments are made within them. The compositions draw you in in a way most music of this sort never does, and that's no small accomplishment. I really feel like there's more to listen to and discover in these songs even after repeated spins. Fur State is so good that it makes me rethink my whole position on The Boxing Lesson -- obviously I need to go back and listen to their more recently recorded stuff more carefully. And with headphones on.
The Boxing Lesson are having a costume listening party for Fur State tonight at the Side Bar, including a sneak preview of their upcoming studio album Possibilities. Check it out, and perhaps pick up the ultra-limited edition version of Fur State that comes with a "herb" grinder. That's some apropos marketing!