From Minneapolis with love, and fur

Handsome Furs are coming to Minneapolis, and per one of the song titles from their debut album, ‘Plague Park,’ we hope the ‘Handsome Furs (don’t) hate this city’

Haily Gostas

When coupled Montreal twosome Handsome Furs released “Plague Park” in May, the debut demonstration of their minimalist robot rock, it seemed like every responding review was waist deep in the “cold/desolate/ sinister” adjective pool.

Handsome Furs (with Company Inc. and Western Fifth)

WHEN: Saturday, July 28 at 10 p.m.
WHERE: Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis, (612) 333-7499
TICKETS: $10, 21-plus, [email protected]

And to think, the whole time Dan Boeckner thought he was writing a pop record.

“I guess that’s just my version of it,” the band’s gentleman half swore. “Apparently I can’t write pop music without it being sad.”

Trace the breadcrumbs back to Handsome Furs’ chief influence and, sure, those initial accusations sort of make sense: “Plague Park” refers to Ruttopuisto, a gorgeous, sprawling square deep in the hub of Helsinki, Finland. Though the location is now a prime picnic spot, it so happens that beneath its grassy knoll lie several thousand plague victims, all placed there when disease claimed a third of the city’s population during the 18th century.

Though Ruttopuisto was once on the outskirts, Helsinki eventually grew around it, smothering death away with grim socialist architecture and new crops of bustling bodies who celebrate spring’s arrival by drinking beer atop their dead ancestors.

“I became obsessed with the idea of a city being indivisible from the people living in it,” Boeckner explained, commenting on the organic undertones that define ‘Plague Park.’ “

He and his lady friend, short-story writer and poet Alexei Perry, insist these scattered Scandinavian histories (with which they became entangled while vacationing there in the winter of 2005) suggest a living, breathing existence, a continuing chronicle rather than a chapter’s closing. Hell, that’s how Handsome Furs was born, so there’s your proof.

Boeckner, already the singer-guitarist for indie darlings Wolf Parade (and the one arguably responsible for their best-written songs), was eager for a new outlet to explore the shifting boundaries between country isolation and city combustion. He picked up his axe, plunked Perry behind a brand new keyboard and drum machine, and promptly called his booking agent to set up a Europe-wide tour. Obviously, actual songs would be required at some point, but the concept was ready and able: They would dedicate their stripped-down symphony to understanding life and death in oft-melancholy modern times. In other words, Handsome Furs turns Wolf Parade’s triumphant exuberance inside out, unafraid to show bones, guts and a tired-but-trying heart.

Looped until lethargic, each of “Plague Park’s” tracks is left to float dream-like around the room, releasing the occasional squeal or shudder of synth-drone noise in order to drift down from the ceiling. Decadent, disillusioned, his ‘n her lyrics burst full with raw luster, but the sound stays put. A tacked-on assembly of live musicians could have forced these otherwise-skeletal arrangements to soar, but that’s not the point. The point is to be as repetitive (and thus, representative) as possible, with help of little more than an achy howl and distant instrumental fuzz.

“It’s a completely different band, but I’m not so naïve to think that this could be fully separated from Wolf Parade,” said Boeckner, unaffected by the inevitable. “Obviously, a comparison will be made because people need that sort of reference point, but it doesn’t really bother me.”

Really, Handsome Furs is about the sonic simplicity of a duo forced to be creative by their limitations. It’s an approach he finds rigid but refreshing when compared to the more flexible four-way collaboration he has with Wolf Parade.

Boeckner not surprisingly cites Perry – who has had no musical training beyond childhood piano lessons – as his favorite keyboard player, in part due to her untainted, unpretentious approach.

“Everyone else I’ve played music with has gotten all their practice from punk bands,” he said. “With that, you figure out your style and eventually keep going back to the same thing. Alexei will come up with ideas I wouldn’t even think of because I’m so set in my ways. It’s really satisfying.”

Oh yeah, about that. When not wading through that aforementioned, metaphorical body of water, people just can’t seem to get enough of a pair who happens to make beautiful music together both on- and offstage. Certainly don’t make the mistake of calling Boeckner and Perry (who met while working at a telemarketing agency) the Canadian Mates of State – both bite their thumbs at the suggestion that Handsome Furs is a platform for private romance.

“We don’t want to use our attraction for each other like a marketing tool, because that’s an easy way out,” Boeckner defended.

Each of the Handsome Furs’ fables is cuteness-free, he assures. They’re more the type to smother each other with pillows than with dainty kisses, anyway.

“Our regular relationship at home isn’t even cute,” he said with a laugh. “I’m crazy in love with this person and it’s scary.”

The type of passionately feral adoration Boeckner feels for Perry extends to music-making, the only other state Boeckner feels he belongs to when in such a black hole of technological dependency and urban sprawl.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t write and record songs, because I can’t really do anything else,” he admitted (though he eventually confessed to decent culinary skills). “Even if no one wanted to listen to it, I’d still be compelled to keep writing music, all the time.”

Good thing, too. We need those who can sense both failure and progress on that long stretch of highway. Handsome Furs are just the fit, structuring their music to sound as though death up and followed you two steps behind from that park onto the subway home. Luckily, hope is waiting for you when you finally figure out where that is.