So the first track ‘Ulysses’ kicks in sounding like the 4-minute warning*, a wall of dissonance and antagonism which bleeds out into a monstrous skyscraper-flattening stomp, above which a tune keeps threatening to break out. The distortion levels are absolutely unhinged and every so often the stomping breaks off for the ‘melody’ to rear its head and howl at an unforgivingly cold moon, before crashing iron hooves back on the ground. Repeat for a cerebellum fracturing 12:43 and you’ll be most of the way into the necessary head space for Dan Friel Total Folklore. It hurts.
I picked up this orange vinyl beauty exactly 5 years ago today when I was on a Thrill Jockey buying kick without knowing anything about it at all other than I liked the folk arty cover; what can I say? LPs were cheaper then and I was always an optimistic sort. I really did not know what to think at all when I first spun it, file under ‘D’ for ‘Difficulty, Hurty-Heady’. But something made me play it again and again. I started to hear through the sound to the melodies within, the tunes began to coalesce out of the din and dang good they are too.
Dan Friel, I learned this week, was in a American noiseniks Parts & Labor and Total Folklore released in 2013 was his first solo LP after their split. He apparently fuses together antique analogue synths and ancient drum machines, all jury rigged together and fed through every distortion pedal known to man. The result sounds like solder and smells like a short-circuit. It just has to have burnt out every few minutes, It just isn’t healthy tech. The folk art LP cover is a perfect metaphor for all of this.
Playing this to my son a few hours ago I could totally understand where his pained grimace was coming from, it is the right and proper expression upon first contact with Total Folklore; the after effects of your CNS recoiling from something so sonically jagged. You need a level of prolonged exposure to fry out your frontal lobes a little first. Trust me I have a PhD in Noiseonomics**, true story. So whilst ‘Windmills’, all 1:23 of it, sounds like a failed moon shot, the real big pay offs on Total Folklore follow.
‘Valedictorian’ sounds like a sped-up 14th generation VHS copy of the theme to a long-forgotten Japanese Saturday morning sci-fi series, pumped through a school Tannoy system. It is both messy and punch-the-air glorious. I had to take it off my ‘Jog Piggy! Jog!’ iTunes mix because it made me speed up way too much every time I heard it. It’s Brian May’s ‘Star Fleet’ retooled for the over-caffeinated ADHD generation. Ditto the howlingly crunchy noise of ‘Velocipede’ with its’ deceptively simple melody and keyboard flourishes, that would sound delicate and airy on a less fucked-out set of kit. All those major primary-coloured harmonies just slay me.
Friel breaks up all the longer ‘proper’ tracks with a number of shorter, sweeter numbered interludes and it works for me. They are short but they do give the necessary breathing space, like the gentle bits on a roller coaster it is good to enjoy a little bit of coasting between all the hurtling around.
The mighty ‘Scavengers’ is a cheeky retake on ‘Valedictorian’ with 20% extra bass and 37.95% ferocity, it spans the whole audible human range – with extra Tokyo-flattening beats. This is truly music for humanity’s last act. When the killer robots come for us this is what the soundtrack to our demise will sound like and part of me just wants to shout ‘bring it on!’. That counts double-triple for the onomatopoeically named ‘Thumper’, which sounds (again) like listening to retro Saturday morning cartoons under heavy shelling. Oh and then it goes all breakbeat batshit crazy, leaving a single rather delightful keyboard line when it fades away. ‘Landslide’, ‘Swarm’ and ‘Badlands’, they all tread the same lines, simultaneously harsh and harmonious; the latter sliding into view like a Magic Eye picture when you get the knack for it.
Overall I find Total Folklore massively uplifting and headachey in equal measure. I will take that amalgam gladly, the pain is well worth the gain here.
PS: Check out this fire risk:
*you know child-of-the-cold-war the signal that we had 4 minutes until the opposing superpower’s warheads landed, time to go tell your boss what you thought of him/her, make your peace with your maker, engage in frenzied coupling with Irene from Accounts Receivable, phone your loved ones, listen to Sabbath’s ‘Hole In the Sky’ exactly, etc.
**I really have, this isn’t just one of those dubious factoids I trot out every so often at the slightest provocation.