12/02/2004

so I write record reviews from time to time, here's one I have been working on for awhile, "Ringodom or Proctor" by Head of Femur. I heard them on launch.yahoo.com, which i like to hype a lot.

Head of Femur takes its name from Elvis's appearance on the EdSullivan Show, where in order not to expose kids to his swivelling hips, the cameramen weren't allowed to show anything below the top ("head") of his femur. A cynical person might call them a less-angry, catchier version of Bright Eyes, but the band is more complex than that, sounding a bit like Camper Van Beethoven or an indier They Might Be Giants mixed with 80's alternative and power pop. An indie-rock orchestra with no fewer than 8 people on stage when I saw them in September, Head of Femur's sound is also a little reminscent of Belle and Sebastian and the Decembrists, especially with their use of a lot of acoustic instruments. Most of the songs are fast and have multiple distinct parts and I notice new things each time I hear them. The guys have They Might Be Giants' and the Flaming Lips' strange sense of humor as well, with odd song titles and their webside listing various members as playing "trumpet, attitude," "weird guitar," "stunt vocals," and so on.

Their debut album is called "Ringodom or Proctor" and while I have no idea what this means (and the band's reply was "to the best of our knowledge it has to do with ringo starr and witches in the puritan times,") the album is an interesting and a fun listen that gets better each time I hear it. The songs are all fairly dense and complex, with a lot of instruments and many distinct sections, part of the reason that the songs grow with each listen.

The Bright Eyes influence is obvious in songs like "80 Steps to Jonah," and "My Dad, My Cousin... and Ronnie," with plaintitive singing (lead singer Matt Focht's voice sounds just like Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst) and confessional and conversational, though often hard-to-follow, lyrics. This influence makes sense though, as Focht and three other band members are or were in Bright Eyes (and keyboardist and drummer Ben Armstrong played in Oberst's old band, Commander Venus.) However, the band doesn't sound like a Bright Eyes knockoff, having catchier melodies and complex songs, along with apoppier, sunnier sound.

Opener "January on Strike" starts out slow and is reminiscent of Bright Eyes, then abruptly stops, changes course and becomes catchier. It's a short song and leads well into "Curve that Byrd," my favorite song on the album. It has a fast, whistle-along melody with slightly drony singing that shifts in the middle to be more gentle and catchy. As with a lot of the album, the lyrics don't make a lot of sense, but it's an likable song anyway.

The toe-tapping "80 Steps to Jonah" has an interesting beginning with fast xylophones and cymbals, then goes through numerous different iterations. Again, Focht's voice sounds just like Oberst's, but the variety within the song makes it interesting.

"Acme, the Summit of a Mountain" sounds like a lost college rock song from early the 80's, with quick cymbals and an power-poppy vibe. I was singing parts of it to myself afterwards, especially the "I don't wanna go to tech school" section of what might be called the chorus. It's also a little reminscent of They Might Be Giants' earlier songs, as it's slightly kooky and a little homemade sounding. "Science Needed a Medical Man" is also reminiscent of early TMBG, being fast and catchy with a start and stop beat.

A few songs miss slightly, like "The True Wheel," a cover of a Brian Eno song, which sounds like the triumphant music played during a key scene in an 80's teen movie, and its falsetto singing is a little annoying. "Money is the Root of All Evil" is also a little annoying, the band sounds like they just thought up with the title phrase and are trying to make a serious statement by singing it over and over.

Album closer "The Car Wore A Halo Hat" sounds like older Flaming Lips, with the strange title, the swirling, slightly psychedelicinstrumentation, and the echoing vocals.

In all, "Ringodom or Proctor" is a little weird and reminds me of alot of other things, but the diversity between the songs and within each song makes it an interesting indie record, worth some repeated listens. If the album were a little more focused or tighter, it would be not just interesting but great. As of now, it's still good.

http://www.headoffemur.com

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