Dufus
Ball of Design
ROIR
2004
B



seth Faergolzia could be the poster boy for antifolk. That is, if antifolk had poster boys, or at least poster boys that weren't scribbled in crayon. Of course, Faergolzia kind of is scribbled in crayon, and that's at least part of his power.

Not to say that he's insane (which he claims to be), but that he swims in a different direction than the rest of us. His counterculture (which may or may not extend far beyond the Doofamily) partly resists the mainstream, but it mostly just inhabits its own river. "Antifolk" is the genre label given to that half-folk/half-hybrid, but the style isn't really "anti" music so much as it is a positive expression of something else. Faergolzia's current vision doesn't fight; it hopes.

I don't know if it's because of this hopefulness, but the new Dufus album Ball of Design is quite a bit more accessible than the occasionally paranoid and threatening debut. Faergolzia's writing actual songs, complete with words and music that you can follow on a first listen. "Wrinkle" almost attains poppishness, and two-thirds of the way through there's even a clean, melodic, almost tropical electric guitar line. You could play this song in your apartment without the neighbors threatening to have you committed.

Don't worry, though, Dufus hasn't gone all regular people on us. Faergolzia's narrators are still tortured souls. The opening track, "Freedom" asks, "Are there questions you ask / When you're talking to God?" This singer doesn't even know how to question his dilemma. Yet, "so what, so what," he says before urging his listeners on to freedom, the escape from this world where people talk about "television and shopping." His proclamation stems from a nearly Emersonian source of internal power, but with a firm claim to being the divine. Upon the seeking of personal direction and power, mountains will crumble and the world will fade.

"Yes, yes, all very good, hippie," you say, but you can't deny the power of this music. "Freedom" is a good example, beginning like a dirge, building to a '60s Broadway rock sound, and culminating in a mostly acoustic punk sound with choral sing-along. But it’s not the incessant changes that make it appealing, exactly. That’s more due to the hearty attention to rhythm that Faergolzia allows his music to indulge in. Even when you're least capable of grasping what the hell Faergolzia is talking about, you'll be able to nod your head (and dance if you're letting it go).

The cohesiveness and structural consistency doesn't detract from message of Dufus, though. And that message is usually the evils of capitalism and contemporary politics. In "Civil War," Faergolzia commands, "Set aside your idiot for a minute." He explains that we're sleeping while the world of zombies marches on to destroy and kill. "Addictive" contains similar themes, as somnabulent people put themselves into the uncaring machinations of the amoral world.

The Faergolzia path of resistance, if it can be called that, doesn't come through attacking the outside world, but through turning further and further inward. The brightness in "Sunchein" (yeah, that's a soft "ch") appears outside the window, but hinges on the singer's discovery of "something inside of you / No fear." This song's partner track, "Radiation," takes the idea a step further. Faergolzia starts off warning us about radiation, which we might expect to be the start of an anti-nuke rant, but he shifts it to mean the poison that comes from within. He points out that, "There's a sun outside," but he uses that language like a transcendentalist—the sun is the visual symbol of internal brightness. The radiation must be cut out. I know, the metaphor falters a bit with the idea of cutting, but Faergolzia manages to drive his point home.

With the madness being managed for a meaning, Faergolzia and his bandmates sound less weird than they did a year ago. It would be easy to say that that shift offers less possibility for a novel world, but that would be missing the point. Dufus is now listenable in ways they haven't been, which is saying something. Ball of Design may sound less "anti," but it also sounds more like something. Something that only makes sense in stick figures and crayons.



Reviewed by: Justin Cober-Lake
Reviewed on: 2005-01-13
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