Figurines / I Am Bones
Skeleton / Wrong Numbers Are Never Busy
B- / B
t's purely coincidence that I'd get my hands on a couple of records from Denmark just as the whole controversy centering around some cartoons published in the Jyllands-Posten started to rage, and unsurprisingly two random records from a country tell you virtually nothing about that country helpful to understanding this sort of massive furor. With such a small sample size they can't even really tell you much about that country's music as a whole, if those kinds of generalizations are ever real or useful. But both Figurines' second album and I Am Bones' debut have been released by the same small Danish label, and if they are at all representative then Danish indie rock is at least as healthy as its American counterpart.
Figurines are the (slightly) more high-profile of the two, recently releasing a 7” in North America, and Skeleton is definitely the more polished record. After the anomalous but sweetly keening piano-and-vocal “Race You” the band lunges into a couple of songs that suggest nothing less than Isaac Brock with a head cleared of mortality and bitterness, high on caffeine, energetic in a peppy rather than spastic way. Ultimately the similarity has more to do with Christian Hjelm's voice than anything else, but something like “Ambush” is good news for people who think Modest Mouse can be a little boring.
Their arrangements are straightforward, and with a standard guitar-guitar-bass-drum set-up Figurines wind up standing or falling on the strength of the songwriting. Luckily the quality is uniformly high; the second half is a bit of a letdown after the strong showing out of the gate but even the two songs where the band stretch past three minutes work well, especially the wasteland romantic melancholy of closer “Release Me On The Floor.”
If these guys were from North America, they'd probably be outselling Wolf Parade or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!—whether due to cultural differences or choice Figurines' wind up sounding like a less willfully obtuse version of those sorts, and whatever that costs them in mystique they more than gain back in songcraft. The fourteen songs on Skeleton are briskly entertaining, no-frills indie rock from a place where indie rock apparently doesn't need a gimmick or purposeful obscurity to be noticed.
As good as they are, though, I Am Bones may be even more enjoyable. Originally the solo project of one Johannes Gammelby, the band is now made up of himself and people from bands called 18th Dye and Spleen United. Together, their intentions an aggressive sort of pop music, the trio has released a debut comprised of 32 fat-free minutes. Like Figurines, when Gammelby stretches out with “Honeytrap” he doesn't lose focus or stop being interesting, but it's clear from the loping opening of “The Beat Is Satan” he's taking a very different tack from Figurines. Except when he dips into social satire on “Backpackers” and “Building Hospitals” his mode seems to consist mostly of heavily deadpan non sequiturs and one-liners, and he carries it through on charm even when the lines fall a little flat.
One of the best parts of I Am Bones is the range; with only a trio and a half-an-hour you wouldn't think Gammelby could do everything from the sunny, fatalistic “Built On Sand” to the viciously howling “Replica,” not to mention the fantastically weird quasi-hip-hop “Make It Funky”-sampling “Cut Elly.” Just when you think you have him pegged as a writer and performer he throws you a curve; suddenly he's generous instead of sarcastic, or screaming instead of lilting. He's the sort of writer that makes you think of auteur theory; no matter how many directions I Am Bones go in here, they always sound like the work of one guy. A sympathetically rough production only helps matters. Wrong Numbers Are Never Busy is the sort of debut that is both immediately satisfying and acts as a hell of a calling card; after hearing it, you're eager to hear exactly what Gammelby will come up with next.
Like Skeleton, it would doubtless do fine over here if ever widely released and reviewed; both acts sing only in English, which rightly or not makes a difference, and both are of high enough quality to compete with whatever we're putting it out. These days its hard enough to just keep up with the music any one country is producing (who has the time?), but bands like Figurines and I Am Bones suggest that peeking your head above the parapets every so often will be richly rewarded.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2006-02-08