Monday, March 1, 2010


Most reviews of entertainment mediums produce their "Best Of" sections at the end of a given calendar year. Rather than that staid and predictable approach, this blog has the courage to be different – or, more likely, lazy - more than two months into the new year. Accordingly, the selection for Best Album of 2009 is the incomparably enjoyable Aim & Ignite by the briefly-named New York trio, fun.

If you know me at all, you know that I am pushing this band harder than Gary Bettman is pushing hockey right now. For a band less than a year old, fun. comes blazing out of the gate with the most ambitious recording of the year. It benefits from exceptional musicianship, daring songwriting, infectious hooks and quirky lyrics. The studio band is the compact merging of remenants of other bands in singer/lyricist Nate Reuss (formerly of The Format), multi-instrumentalist-primed Andrew Dost (previously a spare part in Anathallo) and guitarist Jack Antonoff (tracing his roots to Steel Train), fun. compresses a galaxy's worth of influences into 10 tracks of substantial variance in style, tone and pace. Regardless of their form, they all ring true to the band's moniker: fun. There are strings and horns, searing guitar solos and thunderous drum fills, gang vocals and high harmonies. One line, in particular, from the mid-album ballad "Light a Roman Candle with Me," neatly sums up the band's approach:

"if we were honest and both wrote a sonnet together,
a sandwich with everything on it..."

Beyond just piling on a ton of instruments and stewing up a melting pot of musical styles, Aim & Ignite has a decided and intentional feel to it, namely that of a well-produced LP from 1973. With Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald spinning the knobs for Dost and Reuss' constructions, it is both impecably nuanced and positioned in a aural space that could never be confused with anything produced after 1978, in the way that an elaborite, but fragile Sufjan Stevans venture might. The band is savvy enough to offer the album on vinyl, and though the record sounds supurb under needle, it is not massively so when compared to digital formats, which draw out the collection's many subtle elements.

So, instead of my of my customary approach to pick out a few tracks from an album at hand and discuss their attributes, I'll spread out the entire record and note the influences (with links to videos of songs most similar to the fun. version) and notable aspects of each tune:

Track ** Influences ** Style
1) Be Calm ** XTC, Barenaked Ladies ** Lush Orchestration, Compact Narrative
2) Benson Hedges
** Queen, The Who, Bob Seeger ** Arena Rock
3) All the Pretty Girls
** Electric Light Orchestra ** 1977 AM Radio Hit
4) I Wanna Be the One
** The Beatles ** (Magical Mystery Tour to Sgt. Pepper's era)
5) At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)
** The Offspring, The Police ** Calypso
6) Light a Roman Candle with me
** Burt Baccarach ** Karen Carpenter Piano Ballad
7) Walking the Dog
** Vanpire Weekend, TV on the Radio ** House/Techno Rock
8) Barlights
** Steely Dan, Chicago (before they sucked) ** Blue-Eyed Soul
9) The Gambler
** Ben Folds ** 1st Dance @ Wedding
10 Take Your Time (Coming Home)
** The Eagles, Paul Simon's Graceland ** Americana

As you'll notice, the effort spans the spectrum of the last 40 years of development in rock-and-roll, from the genre's core to its fringes. Its sophisticated, but not weak, meaning that in as much as "Light a Roman Candle" and "The Gambler" might draw a fine bead of emotion, foot-stompers like "Barlights" and "Benson Hedges" would have no trouble filling every crevace of an arena with pure rock energy, while the masses would be hypnotized by "All the Pretty Girls" unavoidable chorus. And while recent acts like Ben Folds and to a lesser extent Metallica have produced some interesting collaborations with full-scale orchestras, this is truly a band who deserves a turn at the head of a symphony, for while Reuss, Dost and Antonoff broaden their tourning outfit to a healthy six-piece, hearing Dost's fine orchestrations – many of which he performed himself – realized in concert would truly be majestic. Let's hope they get the opportunity.

Come for: "All the Pretty Girls"
Stay for: "Barlights"
You'll be surprised by: the entire damn record

P.S. fun. is playing this Wednesday and Thursday at the 9:30 Club, supporting Jack's Mannequin (who really aren't very good, but everyone's got to pay their dues).

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