A Thing Called Divine Fits
, September 28th, 2012 01:05
Divine Fits, if you don't know, is a supergroup / side-project (delete as appropriate, depending which term you think is least pejorative) featuring Britt Daniel of Spoon, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks.
Daniel and Boeckner are a pair of tightly wound songwriters, and they've totally avoided the pitfalls of ego-clash and indulgent showiness that can befall typical supergroups. You might expect a group comprised of three members of other groups might sound divergent and pull in different directions, but actually Divine Fits sounds like a band; a really cool band at that, the kind of band that hangs out in a big garage together, playing rock music, drinking beer, and kicking back. Even the album's name feels like a working title, like something they scribbled on the booking form at the rehearsal rooms or recording studio and kept because it seemed cool.
To me, as a big Spoon fan who's not that familiar with Boeckner's work, A Thing Called Divine Fits sounds a lot like a latter-day Spoon record with a synthesizer. If that seems reductive, it's fair to say it's a very reductive album; sophisticatedly minimal and controlled. But it's clearly a more collaborative affair than you might imagine: songwriting credits reveal that it's not just as simple as Britt and Sam playing a Dan song, or Dan and Sam playing a Britt song; some songs feature music by one writer, lyrics another, some are split between all three, and others are seemingly brought to the table ready-written by their singers. They've got chemistry, and their aesthetics (not a million miles apart, to be fair) mesh perfectly.
The repetitive beats and minimal, catchy New Wave synth hooks of opener 'My Love Is Real' flow nicely into the ticking riffs and muttering, unobtrusive guitar solo (if you can call it that) of 'Flaggin' A Ride'. A stomping Motown beat opens 'What Gets You Alone'; pretty much sans synths, it's all about the guitars for once. It sounds like Dan Boeckner singing a Spoon song, and if you check the writing credits, that's pretty much what it is.
'Would That Not Be Nice' uses a cool, shuffling groove to marry the synths and guitars together for the first time properly. Tellingly, it's also the first instance of really collaborative songwriting on the record. The Salton Sea starts like Suicide or Kraftwerk, and stays that way; it's an exercise in repetition as a form of change. Rumour has it that James Murphy wanted to produce a Spoon record but was too busy with LCD Soundsystem to get involved in other musical projects (and that this is part of the reason why he dissolved that group). With Divine Fits, it almost feels as though Daniel, Boeckner and Brown went ahead and made that record anyway.
There's also a fantastic cover of 'Shivers' by Boys Next Door, Nick Cave and Mick Harvey's teenage, pre-Birthday Party band, which takes the melodramatic, post-adolescent ballad and turns it into something lustier, more mature. The spiraling guitar climax is the closest thing to ostentation anywhere on the record. Given that its key lyric ("my heart is really on its knees") seems to refract and ripple through the rest of the record ("my love is real", "my love is lost"), you wonder if it was this song that somehow brought Divine Fits together. If Boeckner and Daniel are known quantities, then Sam Brown is the secret weapon that binds the group. Amazingly, he seems as frugal and effective a drummer as Spoon's own Jim Eno, and without his architectural backbeat it's unlikely that Divine Fits would work as well as they do.
Exceptionally well-produced in a "here are three guys, in the room with you, playing cool songs" way by British postpunk legend Nick Launay, who's made everyone from Killing Joke to Kate Bush sound fantastic, A Thing Called Divine Fits is a seemingly rare thing; a really good, life-affirming rock record that just works, and gets better and better the more time you spend with it.
In much the way that Atoms For Peace don't really sound different enough from Radiohead to justify their existence, you have to wonder what the motivations are for Divine Fits. Boeckner's seem self-evident enough – both his other bands have recently disintegrated so he needed another outlet. But perhaps Daniel's motivation (and Thom Yorke's?) is that making music with another group of people, even if it's not all that different to what you make usually, lifts your passion out of the dayjob-doldrums it can easily fall into. These three guys sound like they're having fun, like being in a band is an authentically fun thing to do. In these trying times for the music industry, that's something to hold on to.