Album Review: Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits [Merge]
Let’s get the introductions out of the way quickly. You know and love Britt Daniel from Spoon. That song they do “The Underdog” is pretty great. Dan Boeckner has been in a couple bands you may have heard of, including Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs. He’s no longer a member of either of those bands anymore, but really everything he’s been involved in has been wonderful. Sam Brown is from the band New Bomb Turks. You’ve probably never heard of New Bomb Turks or Sam Brown, but he’s a drummer and everyone always forgets about the drummer. With the powers of Daniel, Boeckner and Brown combined, they are Divine Fits. Their debut album is inventively titled A Thing Called Divine Fits. All reasonable logic says that given the players involved, the excellence of this record should be almost a sure thing. Welcome to a band where expectations are met.
The breakdown of A Thing Called Divine Fits is about as even-handed as the composition of it. Daniel and Boeckner bring their considerable talents to the table, and while they insist it was an extremely collaborative atmosphere, the liner notes show that only two songs out of eleven are credited to both of them. The rest are either written solely by one or the other, save for “Shivers,” which is a cover of a Boys Next Door song. The record is split right down the middle vocally too, and they accomodate for the uneven number of tracks by both singing “The Salton Sea.” What do these songs sound like? Well, the Boeckner tracks are a lot more synth heavy and Handsome Furs-esque, while the Daniel tracks feature more guitars and bounce like a good Spoon song should. In other words, if you like either or both of their other bands, you’ll like Divine Fits too. Their previously established sounds aren’t too far apart from one another, so the blending of both into one record sounds even better than you might anticipate.
The ways A Thing Called Divine Fits differs from the work of Spoon and Handsome Furs are somewhat subtle, but they are there. Opening track “My Love Is Real” gets by on little more than a synth and a rhythm track, which you could definitely say is more minimalist, while the hook of, “My love is real/Until it stops,” is very concise considering the typically wordy Boeckner wrote it. Boeckner also goes a little outside of his comfort zone on the sparse acoustic ballad “Civilian Stripes,” though he has done a couple of somewhat similar-sounding songs with Wolf Parade before. It’s his vocals that really sell the song, which are more heartfelt and emotional than he’s ever been. Ultimately Divine Fits does more for Boeckner than anyone else, especially since he has much more on the line with no other project to go back to. He shines in exactly the ways he needs to and takes the opportunity to grow, even if it’s only a little bit.
Daniel for the most part rides the wave this record provides for him, especially on “Flaggin a Ride” and “Would That Not Be Nice.” Both of those songs are individually great and super catchy but don’t push on any stylistic or lyrical boundaries. If you want to hear him go just a little off his playbook, “The Salton Sea” is the place to start. It’s not a pop song; it’s an atmospheric piece in which the synths create this pulsating ocean of noise that you just want to swim around in. Many will write it off as one of the album’s more minor moments, but there’s something almost indefinably cool about it if you pay close attention. The same can be said about closing track “Neopolitans,” which seems to signal from its own little world where synths lightly strobe before giving way to moments of sudden acoustic guitar clarity and echoed vocals. It’s the one track on the entire record that truly epitomizes what it would sound like if you mashed Handsome Furs and Spoon together for four minutes. There’s a bipolarity to it, but it works well anyways.
All the members of Divine Fits insist that they are taking this band seriously and this isn’t a one-off collaboration or side project. Yes, Daniel will return to Spoon, but he may do what Boeckner did for years with Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs and do a record and tour with one before skipping over to the other for more of the same. Of course Daniel has also started another band, so who knows how he’s going to manage everything. It’s also unlikely Boeckner will sit around waiting to make another Divine Fits record, so he’ll probably debut a new project in 2013. But yes, based upon the strong start that is A Thing Called Divine Fits, they’d be fools to stop now. If anything, hopefully this band turns into a space where these guys don’t feel bound by expectations or constraints and can truly let their crazier and uncommercial sides out of the cage. That would likely be either an unlistenable mess, or something brilliant and (r)evolutionary. Given their pedigree, you’re almost guaranteed the latter.