Yeah.... Let's admit it: Side-projects and supergroups usually suck.
While, of course, there are exceptions (like Tame Impala offshoot Pond), most are the half-assed product of a musician whose main gig is, for one reason or another, on the lam. Even worse is when a group of already established musicians get together to form a "supergroup." While the music is usually fine, I find that the best song by those bands never rival that of each members' original group: Do the best Them Crooked Vultures tracks even compare to mediocre songs by Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters or LED-F-ING-ZEPPELIN? Does the hottest Dead Weather track even compete with the top output from the White Stripes or the Kills?
And now we get Divine Fits, the new project from Spoon leader Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs alum Dan Boeckner and New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown, which completely turns this theory on its head. Their debut album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, which you can listen to at NPR before its August 28 release (via Merge), is simply rad. In my opinion, the songs are better than anything Handsome Furs or New Bomb Turks ever released. I liked only a handful of Wolf Parade tracks, so even at just 11 songs, A Thing Called Divine Fits rivals that Canadian band's career output, too. Spoon, however, is a trickier comparison--their catalogue is bullet proof. But, still, these newbies compete. Because they're a different form of Mr. Daniel.
Boeckner and Daniel split vocal duties 50/50 here, but it's Daniel's presence and musical taste that's felt all over the album. Only one song, "My Love Is Real," which, coincidentally, is the first single and album opener, sounds like Handsome Furs with its new wave-y, bloop-blop synths. The rest has Daniel in the detail, even when Boeckner is on the mic;"What Gets You Alone" sounds like Boeckner leading a drunk and rambunctious Spoon. Daniel's contributions are best, and they're not simply Spoon songs. "Wouldn't That Be Nice" takes the Austin band's knack for groove and rhythm and goes psychedelic; "Flaggin a Ride" is both jittery and blues-y, like some Wilco-Black Keys fusion.
But both deliver great lyrics: "My heart is beating in and out of time / She can really get me goin'," Boeckner sings on "Baby Gets Worse." "Is it good? / Is it really good? / The quiet life?" he coos over acoustic guitar and piano on "Civilian Stripes." But, again, it's Daniel's tightly-wound pop-rock jams and real-dude-pain that deliver the tender blow to my heart.
He's behind the album's best two tracks: "Shivers" is a spare pop tune with some of his most direct, emotional and (for me) affecting lyrics: "I've been contemplating suicide / But it really doesn't suit my style / I'll just act bored instead / and contain the blood I would I have bled / She makes me feel ill at ease / My heart is on its knees." This all as the tune rises and his voice fractures into a teeth-glinting cry. On the repeat verse a tangle of tinny guitars crash on all sides. It's amazing. I've listened to it over and over and over since I received the advance album stream a few weeks back.
The other is "Like Ice Cream," a bounce-y and ohhhh-so-smart ditty from Daniel. It's friggin' adorable, too: he compares a lover's devotion to him to ice cream melting in the blazing sun. He, however, "is like dry ice in the summer." She melted. He didn't. He laments over slashes of guitars and backbeat drums in a full-throated holler. Too good.
So, it took 600 words to get here, but just listen to this album: It's sooooo good. It reminds me of another personal favorite, the Breeders' Title TK. There's a fun, loose, this-is-how-we're-doing-it-so-f--k-off feel to it. And, just like I continue to listen to Title TK over and over and over, I have a feeling I will the same with this. It'll preserve, even longer than dry ice in the summer.