(Thrill Jockey; 2013)
By Brent Ables | 8 April 2013
Total Folklore isn’t so much a collection of songs as it is a blunt instrument. It can be used for things. If your upstairs neighbors and their beautiful two children can find nothing better to do with their days then run in circles wearing clodhoppers and dropping heavy shit all over the floor, just hit play on twelve-minute opening anthem “Ulysses” and revel in the fact that, for the length of this track, you are undoubtedly giving them way more grief and having a lot more fun doing it than they can manage with those little hellions. Or if you find yourself with a momentary lack of energy, put this puppy on a good set of speakers and get right up close to the subwoofers like Jesse Pinkman, losing your broken shit in that glorious wall of noise. Total Folklore can be used to blow out those speakers, and probably your eardrums as well. It can be used to scare insects from your walls, and to ward off curious spring-roaming cats. Or, I guess, you can just enjoy it as an exceptionally well-crafted piece of instrumental noise rock. If that’s more your thing.
If you don’t know Dan Friel by name, you might perhaps remember him as a founding member of the better-known Parts and Labor, who played their farewell show last year after a decade of activity. Parts and Labor were extremely successful at doing something that a great many bands from their Brooklyn turf have tried and failed to do, which is to combine abrasion and distortion with sugar-coated melodies in an organic way. They were punk as fuck, but they were also, in their best moments, pretty as fuck. And despite a string of great drummers (including Christopher R. Weingarten, now better known as a prickly rock critic for Spin) and B.J. Warshaw’s consistently righteous guitar work, Friel was always the band’s secret weapon.
Friel’s basic trick is to run crisp but low-fi keyboard leads through a hot mess of distortion and other effects, ending up with something grimier than much guitar-based noise music but more linear and sonically insistent at the same time. Simply put, you just cannot ignore the melodies of tracks like “Landslide” or “Thumper.” Friel’s keyboards seem to be actually talking to you, all boisterous like happy dogs too caught up in communicating their own joy to worry about the language barrier between you. Sometimes they sing together, as on “Velocipede,” and sometimes (“Scavengers”) one line howls on its lonesome in a bright harsh landscape. In every case, they feel startlingly alive.
Whereas Friel’s keys in Parts and Labor were used for stirring hooks and color contrast, Total Folklore demonstrates that they are entirely at home in the focus of the track as well. More than on either of his previous solo efforts, in fact, Friel seems to let his melodic side govern every aspect of Total Folklore. The result is his most engaging work yet outside of Parts and Labor. It’s as though, having said farewell to his day job, Friel still wanted to write songs rather than engage further in the elliptical experiments of Ghost Town (2008). The result is a collection of great, hard-driving tracks that feel poppier than any of the long-winding snores on that new Justin Timberlake album and don’t ask you to call them “Daddy.”