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Posted on March 12th, 2010 (6:20 pm) by Crawford Philleo

There’s no question the songs of Denton’s Bryce Isbell (aka FUR—all caps now, mind you), is meant to take the listener to another place, as is often the case with good electronic music. There’s a certain skill required to create music that feels truly three-dimensional—physically deep, thick, and open. The keys here are texture, layers, and volume. FUR’s technique is to combine a wealth of sonic textures with a near obsessive attention to detail on each and every one of these tracks, massaging and stretching synths and percussive elements to mold around one another. The end goal is clearly met—on Witches, FUR has successfully created a visual, environmental ambience with each track. When listening, however, some inevitable questions definitely remain—where exactly are we, and what are we doing here?

And these are valid concerns. One problem is that little of the album relates back to its referenced titles. One may listen to a track like “Swimming” and hear the trudging beats that juggle dizzyingly back and forth, the screeching hisses of steam, the lightly chimed major chords and…we’re swimming? “Friends of Friends” is another odd one - an opera singer’s voice is sampled and placed amid police sirens. Make no mistake, it’s a cool effect, but where are we now, and why are these two in the same room? “Tunnels” provides another puzzle: the act of being in an underground corridor is transformed into a grandiose action-film chase scene. “Lackadaisical” is a whole other story...a masterfully moody and meditative piece of work, full of atmospheric, bendable synths, and an Air-like groove that floats right along.

The misnaming of tracks is but a petty crime, though. The real issue here is whether or not it’s worth finding yourself within these ambient environments at all. The good thing is, for much of the album, exploring these soundscapes is an overwhelmingly pleasant experience. Witches feels like the rift between a satellite and its home base. An open air of frequencies that translate collages of static with brief glimpses of holographic images that flicker to life only to disappear again in the starlight. Unfortunately, FUR doesn’t always deliver on this front either. Songs create these soundscapes and let them just sort of sit there. “Blood” is probably the most troubling cut, starting, coasting on, and clumsily ending around a basic major triad, all the while disguising itself as complex with noodling synths that accomplish little in the way of actual sonic progression. The beat (an area where FUR excels in other spots on the album) does little to make the experience worthwhile, a stuttering mess that feels bloated and overwhelmed when sized up with its harmonic counterpart.

It’s been a struggle to make it this far in the review without mentioning Boards of Canada, and to be honest, the worst part about Witches is that the best parts bite BOC just a little too hard. Case in point, “Black Castles.” The song opens cleverly with a whimsical, classical waltz sample that miraculously morphs into a low-key beat. But as the song develops, it starts to sound a little too familiar to a track like “Telephasic Workshop,” especially the synth undertones, and slippery, percussive inflections that glide from ear to ear. Overall, though, it’s a very strong track and if nothing else, showcases FUR’s efforts in carefully mixing samples, studiously laboring over tones, and creating a vivid and glowing atmosphere of sound that is easy to get lost in.

In an attempt to make a broad, sweeping evaluation of FUR, one could compare this album to Manitoba’s 2001 record, Start Breaking My Heart. Though his talent was never in question, the bedroom-electro results of Dan Snaith’s debut pointed more to its source material than it did to his own music. All it took was one more record for the artist to explode out of this shell and really use that skill toward something utterly unique and creative. I have high hopes for FUR—the pieces are all there, you can tell the guy listens to the right stuff, and it’s great to hear a debut that’s this polished and sonically detailed. What’s missing here are real songs. FUR songs.

Track List:
1. Faces
2. Witches
3. Friends of Friends
4. Lackadaisical
5. Black Castles
6. Swimming
7. Haunted
8. Blood
9. Sleep
10. Hidden
11. Tunnels
12. Cheer Fool

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

70 / 100
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