Full-disclaimer: I have always been a fan of everything Boeckner. This Canadian singer-songwriter has been at the creative co-helm of electronic/pop/alternative rock outfits such as Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade and Divine Fits. The operative word in that last sentence? Co-helm. Alongside the mad Spencer Krug, Boeckner composed half of Wolf Parade. With his ex-wife, the cool and sexy Alexei Perry, they formed Handsome Furs. He very recently collaborated for a very fruitful Divine Fits album, alongside a fresh and focused Britt Daniel, of Spoon critical acclaim. Even at the root of his commercial career, as part of the band Atlas Strategic, Boeckner worked alongside Johnny Pollard.
What makes Boeckner’s latest project, Operators, so curious is that, for the first time since 2000, Boeckner might be the lone operator, pun-intended, of this project. With Sam Brown on percussion and Devojka on synthesizers, this project looks to make Boeckner’s grooves the feature presentation.
Operators’ EP1 opens with it’s single “True”, a very-funky and earnest track about True Love. The second track off this EP, “Book of Love”, starts with synthesizers making sci-fi movie sounds, very much like Sufjan Stevens’s somewhat-cultish odyssey album Age of Adz. This track definitely takes on a more experimental melody than seen in previous Boeckner work and would make for a curious avenue for this band to go down. Buried midway through this release, “Cruel” is closest to the typical Boeckner sound: it’s got some jamming and distorted guitar sounds that pine in-sync with Boeckner’s yearning. And even though they sound great, those guitars make “Cruel” much less danceable. As a result, “Cruel” functions as a sandbar, halting the waves created in the first two tracks, surrendering the dance momentum and leaving the listener (or dancer-turned-head-bobber) flat-footed for “Ancient”.
With “Ancient”, Boeckner contrasts notions of fate and choice, with a hook that asks “Who put the ancient code in your bones?/Who you gonna love when you make it home?/Who could you love?” Boeckner journeys through time-defying questions over his trademark synthesizer, which eventually gives way to an electronic and percussion-based infectious dance rhythm. It even has a hint of a CHVRCHES rhythm. “Start Again” concludes the EP with vivid, soaring, electronic dreaminess that comes in waves. At the bridge, this track huddles in for sobriety and a touch of nuance before setting off to the dance floor once more.
The most adventurous and well-crafted tracks on this EP, “Book of Love” and “Ancient”, both do an excellent job of melding dance elements into a synth-pop core. Though “Cruel” is a pleasing track itself, it just doesn’t quite fit with the other sounds on this album, and spoils the overall presentation of this EP. Conceptually, Operators strive to take the honest, direct, slightly kitsch synth-pop/rock that is synonymous with Boeckner to a dancehall, and do so with considerable success. This EP, a proof of concept, is still somewhat safe-sounding, and perhaps hesitates to trade in rock/pop sounds for dance sounds; nevertheless, this record is very promising for a future full-length dance exploration by this Boeckner-led group.
Rating: 7/10, Grower-not-a-shower
Essential tracks: “Ancient”, “Cruel”
2. Book of Love
5. Start Again
Operators’ EP1 is out now. They perform Tuesday, September 2 at Metropolis with Future Islands; $18 in advance via Blue Skies Turn Black or $20 at the door.