During a tour through Eastern Europe, husband/wife duo Dan Broekner and Alexei Perry found the bulk of their inspiration, for Face Control. So the story goes. All of the dreariness and desperation of the former Eastern Bloc countries-once isolated behind the “Iron Curtain”-seems to live and breath in these songs.
With Plague Park, the band’s first LP, many are drawn to the disc on the strength of Broekner’s association with Wolf Parade. And while he does have his place in that troupe, a side project with his wife seemed like a pragmatic indulgence, possibly even too ambitious. Perhaps pressure to keep up with Wolf Parade band mate Spencer Krug, and his limitless supply Canadian of indie side projects, was the driving force for him to say, “Honey I’m home, let’s jam.”
The album starts out pretty raw, no time for quant introductions; Broekner and Perry invite teeth-grinding head-nods on “Legal Tender.” It’s a song about resignation as much as it is about the fucked up nature of society. Broekner’s weary voice and angular guitars are carried by an 808 drum machine pulse and decaying synth line. On “Evangeline,” the song shifts into a different arrangement and refrain halfway through, with a confident swing anchored to the core of the song. On “All We Want, Baby, Is Everything” the Furs interpolate elements from New Order’s 1981 single “Temptation,” having to clear its use before the release. Their appropriation of the song has a limited trajectory, allowing for their own ideas to develop without too heavy of a reliance on the original.
The Furs’ choice of “Confused” as the lead single proves a wise choice: it is poppy with Broekner’s memorable hook and tasteful guitar work. On “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues,” Broekner sings: “There was a guy who came in from the cold / But he’s never gonna get past face control,” concerning the nature of the album’s title. Apparently “Face Control” is a common practice in Russian night clubs where door men dictate who gets into the bar on the merits of their physical appearance-but monetary persuasion can sometimes curtail the scrutiny. Herein lies the bulk of the album’s thematic fuel: the absurdity of post-communist free markets in Eastern Europe, where anything can be bought with the right amount of scratch.
Things start to really slow down near the last quarter of the disc: “Officer Of Hearts,” at almost six minutes long, is built on a backbone of 808s and drowsy guitars, leaving Broekner’s vocals to meander out in the cold. This is where the issue of album pacing on Face Control becomes evident, wherein the following song “It’s Not Me, It’s You” turns out to be a U2-approximated interlude. That they chose to follow up the most bloated (and weakest) song on the disc with an even slower interlude is confusing. However, it does set the tone for the final two songs: “Thy Will Be Done” is easily the album’s best track, and “Radio Kaliningrad” summarizes the tone, inspiration, and overarching statement of the album.
The band scores points for making a more consistent LP, contextualizing American/Russian socioeconomics and musical tradition, whilst modernizing the sound. The main criticisms are the lack of variation in tempo throughout the program, as well as a sloppy, first-take approach. And while some may find a record goes down easiest without surprises, and without an overwrought aesthetic, Face Control finds itself teetering between the two.
Broekner and Perry, who share an obvious chemistry together outside of their Handsome Furs outfit, make great use of it here. They managed to focus the lens of their creative scope more so than previous attempts, showing promising development of their song-crafting. It’s nice to hear an indie band making something with a little substance for once, and even nicer when you realize that the people making it are walking the same streets, and riding the same subway as you.