Head of Femur - Great Plains
Record Label: Greyday Productions
Release Date: March 25, 2008
In an effort to dutifully conform to the usual reviewer’s role of thrusting a band into a compartmentalized musical typology, I submit the following: Head of Femur are certainly one of the most unique indie quirk-pop acts in recent memory.
Allow me to break it down for you. Head of Femur maintain a reasonably straightforward rock vibe driven by simple, subtle arrangements, hence the “indie.” “Quirk,” a buzzword in reviewspeak, denotes the band’s propensity for complex time signatures, unconventional instruments, and unpredictable shifts in mood and momentum. Because they could easily earn a place in the annals of any number of liberal colleges’ hipster radio stations, I’ve tacked on the “pop” descriptor. And yet, even with the ridiculous labors of foolhardy reviewers (such as myself) to pigeonhole Head of Femur with unnecessary labels, the band delightfully manages to evade definition.
At first listen, Head of Femur’s particular brand of strange can come across as jarringly anarchic, and that seems to be the point. They build their songs with a variety of honky-tonk pianos, splashy brass, and random percussion, and then lace them with Matt Focht’s hearty vocals. It’s hard to know what to expect, but that’s the allure. Much of Head of Femur’s writing showcases intelligently sparse song-smithing and sunny creativity. Great Plains, the fifth release under the name Head of Femur, manages, for the most part, to maintain this savvy.
Great Plains ambles sleepily to a start with the lonely trumpet and wood block of “Whirlaway” before the title track begins a-jangling, bedecked in horns and peppy piano. This sort of randomized glee is Head of Femur’s bread and butter. They nail a similar sound with the spunky guitars of “Leader and the Falcon” and the insistent rhythm of “Climbing Up Fire Escapes.” But of course, the band refuses to settle on one style, throwing in some dark, electro-effects in “River Ramble” and slowing things down to damn-near ballad speed with “Covered Wagons.” “This Message,” perhaps the shining star of Great Plains, juxtaposes airy harmonies and light bells with amiable, liberating lyrics that remind us that, “You have to remember to laugh when you bounce a check / And you’ve got to remember to laugh when you can’t pay the rent.”
Perhaps not surprising due to the band's scattered sound, Great Plains misses the mark in a few regrettable places. Their highly original doses of indie-collage (see that, another label!) are violently interrupted by such banal tracks as “Jetaway Junior” and “Where’s the Fire.” Full of vacuous instrumentation and muddy vocals, these inexplicably prosaic songs distract from an otherwise jubilant musical pastiche. It’s amazing how shocking the difference really is. “Napoleon’s Boots” boasts rousing musicianship, but can’t avoid annoyingly inane lyrics. These unfortunate slip-ups make for a less complete album and a somewhat disconnected experience.
They are not, however, enough to derail the band entirely. Head of Femur’s good-natured music is too intelligent and too engaging to be dismissed by a few missed steps. In an age that’s short on originality and long on imitative acts, we need a few more indie quirk-pop bands that can give us something we’ve not yet heard. Fight the mundane, listen to Head of Femur.