The Funs, ‘The Funs’

Posted by on June 4, 2013

The_Funs-The_Funs

Manic Static, 5/2/2013

Genres extract music and artists’ work from the direct, immediate experience of music. Instead of describing sounds, genres often connect to fashion movements (punk), derogatory journalistic slogans (shoegaze, rhythm and blues), or confusing statements about distribution (“commercial pop,” “indie rock”). When we’re writing about music, we can insert these types of abstract categories into our work, but they often have the effect of separating an artist’s album from their habitat, leaving much unsaid about what we experience when we are listening.

The Funs provide an exceptional challenge to the music writer. First and foremost, since the band rose through the ranks of Chicago’s illegal and underground venues, the simple fact is that experiencing the band’s recordings separates the listener from the band’s “natural” environment. Secondly, like most  independent, outsider pop bands in recent years, The Funs’ music is really without genre. You could call them a punk band, but that’s not quite right – their songs are often chugging, slow, and tempo-shifting. Yet, the band isn’t really noisy or crazy, either — they don’t mash effects pedals, they don’t play with signal noise, they don’t manipulate tape, etc. And, as muddy the band might sound,  this certainly isn’t what you’d recognize as grunge. So you see, we have a full gamut of ill-fitting categories for The Funs.

The seemingly omnipresent Manic Static released The Funs’ self-titled début on cassette in 2012, and the limited edition vinyl version has hit the streets just in time for summer 2013. Throughout this album the duo streamlines their arrangements to the barest of elements. There’s hardly a fuzz pedal on this one, as a guitar and booming drums propel each hazy song into its neighbor.

I’ve never seen The Funs live. Beyond their song-writing and recording aesthetic, that seems to be the most relevant fact of my review, so it is biased from the outset. I can crank my stereo as loud as possible, dump out all the beer I own onto the floor, and roll around in dirty laundry, and I still won’t be able to accurately report the feeling of this band. There’s a disconnect between reports about their shows and their recordings — this isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply a matter of whether or not one has the necessary trappings to enable them to touch the music. How does one appreciate party music outside of a party?

Midrange celebrations abound on The Funs. Aside from any genre signifier, the sound of the band falls squarely into the middle of the sonic spectrum. One might say that the recording is lo-fidelity, but that’s not really true: individual elements are perfectly clear, it is simply that their range converges. For example, this influences the guitars, which sound clean enough taken on their own terms but bleed together with the drums so profusely as to form a heavy layer of sonic grit.

Without crazy effects or tape manipulation, Jessee Rose Crane and Philip Jerome Lesicko use tempo shifts and dynamic responses between their guitars and drums to build textures and accompany their chugging chord structures. On “Reality,” the outcome of a slithering arpeggio is dirty hypnosis, and steady, thwacking drums on “Dead Days” slice right through a jangling chord sequence.

Whether pieced or sequenced together, The Funs reaches a level of intensity through its changes of pace. “Moon” is strangely similar to “Dead Days,” for example, but after the slower “Dead Days,” The Funs immediately kick- start a series of blissful, driving sequences to build the plot of the release. Abrupt stops or endpoints characterize the songs: suddenly, “Moon” just ends, there is a palpable silence… then “Memory” resumes at an even slower pace. Back and forth, these changes become entrancing.

In the end, pop music endures through the beauty and power of its experiences. The Funs’ début ultimately supports the argument against genres and classification, instead preferring straightforward statements. If you’ve seen The Funs live, this review probably does little justice to their approach to pop music; if you’re like me and you can’t see them live, their recordings showcase simple sounds suitable for basements, bars, and illegal venues. From their midrange haze, the group hypnotizes their listener while hiding nothing in their sleeves.