CD Review: fun., “Aim and Ignite”

fun. - Aim and Ignitefun. is one of those bands that take all the music that they love, throw it in a blender, and pour the resulting mixture into an album. In this case, the album is called Aim and Ignite (Nettwerk), and while the whole is a bit less than the sum of its parts, it’s an interesting and unusual listen.

The band’s main strength is to be found in the songwriting. The production is another story. There’s nothing basic about this album, and Mies van der Rohe’s famous proclamation “Less is more” did not figure into this particular equation. There are strings galore, multilayered vocal harmonies throughout, horns, oboes, and accordions here and there, and even the appearance of a calliope on one track.

I’ve never been much of a Queen fan. There were a few songs that I like, but I always thought they sounded, well, goofy. fun., on the other hand, are obviously big Queen fans, and while modern recording technology (and basic good taste) has allowed them to improve on Queen’s cheesier sounds, it still sounds, to some extent, like Queen to me. It sounds cute. I don’t like cute. I don’t know, maybe I need to lighten up. The sounds of ELO and Jellyfish are among the blended ingredients too, but on “Walking the Dog,” fun. relies on the more current influence of Vampire Weekend. Then again, Vampire Weekend got it from Paul Simon, and he got it from musicians in South Africa, and they got it …

“At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)” is as representative a track as any. If you don’t get what I’m going on about when you listen to it, you’ll probably like the album more than I do. You’ll use the word “catchy” instead of “cute,” and you’ll suggest that I look into getting a sense of humor. You won’t be the first.

As I said at the outset, this is an interesting listen. You certainly can’t say that fun. is slavishly following trends, as so many bands are these days. Many of the songs are really good. I’d like to hear them in a more stripped-down form. I have a similar problem with Dr. Dog, a band that was recommended to me by a number of people. I think much of their recorded work is too fussed over, but when I saw them live and their sound was more stripped down out of necessity, emphasizing their powerful songwriting, I thought they were wonderful. Perhaps the same fate awaits me with fun.

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  • David_E

    I hear Jellyfish far more than Queen, but maybe only because the former took the latter and muted it with the Beach Boys and ELO. If anything, I hear a lot of Sweet in this record – these guys could cover the hell out of “Love is Like Oxygen” or “Fox on the Run” (in a too well-mannered way, maybe). I thought these guys were totally following trends – it's just that most of said trends peaked in 1976.

    Loved the album, personally. Some deft touches in the lyrics. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  • King Pervus

    I've been thinking. . .

    Are bands of this type simply financially or technically unable to kick out the J's in the manner of their supposed influences ('fish, queen, Trex, etc.), or are they afraid to offend the current “less is more” indie sensibility and end up like The Darkness (a kind of ironic post-grunge novelty).

    For my money, less is less. I welcome the return of drums and reverb.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    I think it's clever more than cute. And it's certainly very busy, but where I think most bands of this stripe use complex arrangements as a *cough* cheap trick to evoke their influences, these guys actually back it up with their songwriting. My favorite album of the year so far.

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    At least we finally have an album that's worthy of some scutiny and discussion, even disagreement. Most albums by new bands these days seem to just pass by without a word, mostly because they're not worthy of discussion.

  • bkharmony

    Like Divide_E, I hear some glam in there, too, but I picked out Slade and Mott The Hoople. And while we're on influences, yeah, there's some Queen, but way more ELO. But Jellyfish? The band credits Roger Joseph Manning Jr. as “Arranger,” but I'm just not hearing it. I think that's an efficient, but inaccurate comparison.

    This album is growing on me, but for the most part, I find it simply tries too hard. Cut out half the time changes and stylistic shifts and it could be a winner. Convince the singer to actually sing instead of trying to (sometimes goofily) “emote,” and it might be more compelling. As it stands, it's more a twee testament to technology, in that – WOW! a few guys with a few computers can do this now, whereas it took a lot more resources 20 years ago. But flaunting the fact you can rip off a bunch of superior artists with a couple high-end laptops does not a good record make.

    Finally, Ken mentioned songwriting. I'm not sure if the writing is a band process or just done by Singer Nate Ruess (I suspect the latter), but it's a mess. In each song you can pick out a great hook (or sometimes two) that clearly served as the starting point of the song. But just piling crap on a good idea isn't the same crafting a good song. Maybe I'm too traditional (I think the best track is “All the Pretty Girls,” which is the closest to a traditional song structure you'll find on the record), but it's been said many times and needs to be repeated ad nauseum: “just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD.”

    And that pretty much sums up this promising, but frustrating album.

    P.S. Anyone else notice Steven McDonald (I assume of Redd Kross) is somehow attached to this project, as well? I really wonder what this record would sound like without the guys from Redd Kross and Jellyfish watching over it.

  • bkharmony

    That's funny you say, “most bands of this stripe use complex arrangements as a *cough* cheap trick to evoke their influences, these guys actually back it up with their songwriting,” because I thought exactly the opposite; that they were masking lazy songwriting with trickery and frippery.

    Yes, I said frippery. Bring it.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Fripp played on this too? Wow.

  • bkharmony

    Agreed. Jefito will attest I've been obsessed with talking about this record for three days now. That says something, I think. (Hopefully more about the record than me.)

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    I know you, Harmony — you've only been obsessed with taking a leak on my favorite record of the year. Grumpy old contrarian bastard.

  • bkharmony

    You're a funny guy, and give yourself far too much credit. Pissing on something you like is just a pleasant by-product of my search for greater musical truths. (So suck it, Trebek.)

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Mountebank!

  • bkharmony

    I pose a conundrum to you; a riddle if you will.

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  • MattKlomp

    Loving this album.. great tunes to finish up the summer with. I also think it’s awesome that they’re working with indie record stores- you can get a really cool lithograph for free if you buy the record through any of these stores-
    http://www.previewnewmusic.com/fun

  • MattKlomp

    Loving this album.. great tunes to finish up the summer with. I also think it’s awesome that they’re working with indie record stores- you can get a really cool lithograph for free if you buy the record through any of these stores-
    http://www.previewnewmusic.com/fun

  • MattKlomp

    Loving this album.. great tunes to finish up the summer with. I also think it’s awesome that they’re working with indie record stores- you can get a really cool lithograph for free if you buy the record through any of these stores-
    http://www.previewnewmusic.com/fun

  • Stephen

    I completely agree with this review. I just saw them live two days ago, and was really blown away. They're great live. I was looking forward to hearing the album, and a lot of their acoustic stuff on youtube is great. But the album itself is just too much. If they took the number of instruments down a bit and stopped going for perfect production and instead just let the hooks breathe (and they ARE good hooks), this album would be so much better.

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