Andrew Broder’s been at it under the Fog moniker, in one free-flying, shape-shifting form or another, since 1999. Until now, the catalog of full-lengths and EPs that surfaced from his initial test-tube trials frequently bore the archetypal burden of musical collage: They penetrated the innumerable possibilities of hybrid sounds (among them: electro-pop turntablism, found-sound chattering and dreamy indie-folk balladry), but also tested the aptitude of Broder’s audience and whether they cared to tolerate the more head-scratchingly experimental outings.
LABEL: Lex Square Lake Festival/ “Ditherer” CD Release Show
WHEN: Aug. 18, all day, their show at 11 p.m.
WHERE: Near Square Lake County Park, on a 14-acre hobby farm, 13359 Partridge Road, Stillwater
TICKETS: $5-20, all ages
Despite an occasional tug-of-war between the art of piecing together and the act of complete deconstruction, however, Broder has always boasted an impeccable, unabashed appreciation for straight-up rock and roll, and seems to have strengthened his method for snugly wedging its more immediate appeal in a left-most field of weird.
But apparently, there can be an unexpected liberty found in the lassoing and taming of misbehaving melodies. And having a horde of Big Cool Friends to help baby-sit certainly doesn’t hurt.
Fog’s latest offering, the much more direct, dynamic “Ditherer,” finds Broder lifting the flap to this circus tent of sonic oddities to make room for a first-time, for-real rock band with bassist Mark Erickson and drummer Tim Glenn. Their pronounced, muscular contributions (alongside an impressive bill of very familiar names) have a significant hand in sculpting “Ditherer” from what could have been a puff project into an 11-track structure of flesh and blood; an alert, visceral record all at once gorgeous and jarring, soothing and dizzying.
Each guest adds its own tinge or trademark to “Ditherer’s” already solid song collection, assisting Broder in his stretching big and growing upward: Phil Elverum (a.k.a. the mad genius behind the Microphones and Mt. Eerie) lends first his droning hum and then a swarm of his hushed, creaky-stair vocals to the Radiohead-esque rocker “What Gives?” The title track invites the pulsating organic-cum-electronic arrangements of Andrew Bird and Martin Dosh (frequent collaborators themselves) for an effectively haunting halfway point. Slowcore outfit Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker prop up “Ditherer’s” lovely concluding number with their husband-and-wife harmonies and lone-marching-soldier beat. Sure, it’s an admittedly full house, but all the elements somehow manage to comfortably coexist without ever sounding overcrowded.
Occasionally, Broder’s pet project still gets rebellious (or just downright odd), even with a newly disciplined approach. “You Did What You Thought” is a good example, hypnotizing from the beginning with its swirling lullaby of “is-that-you-God?” vocals over a light piano riff. That is, until Broder’s bizarre, psychedelic swarm of synthesized ramblings storms in and crashes the pretty party.
Otherwise, there’s not much to complain about. By surrendering his sovereignty over Fog, Broder has managed to ensnare and manufacture all those wild and crazy concepts that were worth hearing but refused to pan out properly. Even he himself sounds more confident, pushing his once-gentle voice to new heights over those types of amped-up guitars capable of charging through any barriers. “Ditherer” is an album that affords Broder’s songs new depth and broader resonance, proving that not even avant savants are above a little focus, and a little help from their friends.