Album Review: Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

[Merge; 2012]

It’d be really easy to turn discussion on Divine Fits’ debut record into overlong treatises on the definition of the supergroup and the meaning of the term in the context of the indie music world, but given the record that we have here such discussion may not be the best use of our time.

So let’s start instead with some basic facts about the album. Following the dissolution of Handsome Furs, his shared musical project with his wife, Dan Boeckner received a phone call from one Britt Daniel (of Spoon fame) that sparked this new collaboration. Now, this is where the supergroup discussion would generally start, but A Thing Called Divine Fits is a different monster.

In “What Gets You Alone” you have the classic garage pop that Daniel has so successfully mined for years, but with a spirited Boeckner vocal take over the top. It’s everything the collaboration should have been, successfully melding the claustrophobia of the great Spoon tracks with the bombastic nature that’s so often marked Boeckner’s songwriting. It’s three tracks in a centerpiece to what should have been an outstanding collaboration, but what surrounds is often a mixed bag of tracks that attempt similar melding (and don’t reach the same level of success) and ones that abandon any real pretense of collaboration in favor of sticking firmly in the camp of either Boeckner or Daniel.

You’ve got the duo of “Like Ice Cream” and “Neopolitans” that close the record which follow more directly the paths of Daniel and Boeckner respectively. The former relies on a bouncy riff and hushed backing vocals to drive along Daniel’s typically spirited take on retro rock. If you’re a Spoon fan, you’ll find a lot to like in that track-as you will on the cloistered “Civilian Stripes” or the subdued “Shivers.” These are all songs that, on their own standards function as relatively outstanding. Daniel’s typically poingnant lyricism remains strong throughout all his tracks, but it all becomes a bit disorienting when taken as a whole. In between all these Daniel contributions, you have your Boeckner tracks, as reliant as ever on the boisterous synths of Handsome Furs and the sort of throat shredding vocals he’s been putting forth since his Wolf Parade days. Boeckner’s songs too still stand up to the high standard that he’s set for himself, but there’s just something about the way they’re presented, intertwined with these distinctly different Daniel tunes, that makes the whole record feel a bit scattershot and out of focus.

Boeckner’s done this whole shared songwriting bit before, and famously at that, as a member of Wolf Parade, but in that setting his songs soared. His guitar thrashings and shredded vocal cords functioned an interesting counterpoint to Spencer Krug’s adderall laced synths and cracked yelps. Those tracks had a symbiotic relationship, helping each other along. Tracks like “Modern World” and “Grounds for Divorce” never fought for the same space, instead occupying complementary musical realms and emotional headspaces. Daniel and Boeckner’s contributions, despite functioning on their own as wholly engaging tracks, consistently claw for the same resources, begging for your attention in the same way — though remaining musically distant. The product of this supergroup then, was an effort disjointed in tone though not lacking in skill.

If another Divine Fits record ends up in the works it seems likely that they’ll perhaps find their respective niches as collaborative songwriters, but for now you might as well sift out each songwriter’s vocal takes and pretend it was a split LP to begin with. A Thing Called Divine Fits has the ring of a horror movie title and maybe a monster is the right analogy. Rather than a cohesive structured debut effort that was the product of a cooperative band, you have a Frankenstein-ian melding of cast off parts.