Album review: FAN - 'Barton's Den' (Polyvinyl)

With The Dodos on hiatus, Meric Long launches solo project FAN after discovery. Following the passing of his father and subsequent birth of his first child, the discovery of two of his father’s synthesisers saw the creation of new solo project FAN - debut LP Barton’s Den is the result.
Posted: 3 May 2018 Words: Nicholas A.

With The Dodos on hiatus, Meric Long launches solo project FAN after a discovery.

Following the passing of his father and subsequent birth of his first child, Meric Long chose to prioritise life over music and put his indie rock band The Dodos on hold. The discovery of two of his father’s synthesisers saw the creation of new solo project FAN - debut LP Barton’s Den is the result. Meric Long has comprised one half of critically acclaimed indie rock band The Dodos for over a decade. Before The Dodos came to be, Long had a background in heavy metal bands; meanwhile, his accomplice Logan Kroeber had once been a student of West African Ewe drumming and intricate Blues fingerpicking guitar. As if this unexpected concoction didn’t quite fulfil the hit of inconvention they evidently craved, sometimes drummer Kroeber didn’t bother with including a bass drum in his kit and simply played on the rims of the drums that remained. No surprises, then, that Long - in the form of new solo project FAN and debut LP Barton’s Den - didn’t fancy staying par for the course in many respects, if any at all. The Dodos are unique in that, rather than Kroeber’s drums merely keeping time, they often play central to the emotion expressed by Long’s guitar strings - and how Long makes his guitar strings ooze with the stuff. They’re fuzzy with distortion, rambunctious with joy and anger in equal measure, and make for an audio feast. And that’s exactly why he set them aside in favour of a pair of synthesisers. But the Yamaha AX60 and Realistic Concertmate MG-1 in question aren’t just any synths, they’re synths that belonged to someone quite special - Long’s late father. Whilst Long sees working with the synths as "a way to continue the conversation," one suspects the lyrics found throughout Barton’s Den probably had as much of a cathartic effect. The listener gets a deeply sensitive look into the perhaps strained relationship between father and son as Long describes how he "used to look for someone never around" in opener and lead single 'Bob1'. Similarly, he tells his big man "I was looking for you" on follow-up 'Fire'. The heart desperately hurts on 'Since I Found You' as Long borderline confesses that he’s only been able to realise what he had for a father now he has passed: "since you’ve gone, I found you". These are extraordinarily personal moments, realisations and revelations for the listener to be a part of - the emotional torment Long must have wrenched himself through for the sake of his craft absolutely cannot be undermined or downplayed and must wholly be appreciated for their worth. Just as the drums do when The Dodos are in town, so too do Long’s vocals take on an additional role beyond what’s expected. They deliver insight that is nothing short of a privilege to witness, also often acting as a pseudo-musical instrument, lyrics being repeated over and over as if they’re a key on a synth. This is because of Long’s ambition to have song structures that "never repeated themselves," consequently concluding that "the best way to string the listener (or myself) along for the ride of the song was to have bits of familiarity strung throughout." Whilst seemingly simple as a concept, it makes for an overwhelmingly complicated listen. 'Fire', for example, starts with a set of snares on a drum machine that is of such a pitch and pace it wouldn’t be out of place at an 80's disco; fast forward a mere minute or two and the listener is being barraged with fuzzy garage rock that’s taken a leaf out of the punk movement. 'Gorgoroth' is comprised of so many elements fused together in so many ways it isn’t far off having an identity crisis as it results in what can only be described as an incomprehensive mess. The vocals on ‘Isn’t Love', meanwhile, are sung with such a lack of conviction it’s as if Long didn’t want them involved in the first place. The structure - or lack thereof - makes for a frustrating experience; just as the music and listener is getting into its groove, the song takes an unexpected turn and is suddenly embracing an entirely different outlook on life to that of its predecessor. Of course this frustration dissipates with every listen as the intricate nooks and crannies gradually reveal themselves, though the same cannot be said about the feeling of bafflement. Long is undoubtedly an exceptionally talented musician but one cannot help but surmise that this admirable albeit lofty concept does - in parts - get in the way of this talent being truly expressed. Fortunately this is a brushstroke that doesn’t tarnish the entire album as there are several moments when Long’s ability and technique come to the fore; that this nearly always happens when matters are stripped down and the listener can thankfully see the forest for the trees could be an argument that subjectivity is trumping objectivity in this review, alas it is the case. The guitar solo on ‘Intro of Light’ is reminiscent of latter day The Strokes, the synths and guitar strings to-ing and fro-ing in compelling contrast. Similarly, the guitar hook on 'Since I Found You' is typically Dodos; warm, friendly and embracing, and yet - through Long’s exquisite deftness - walks the line between optimism and sorrow. 'Velour' is enthralling drama through and through, amongst the wall of noise a string of synths being played in such a way they’re akin to the brass section in a gallivanting big band. Album closer 'OMD' is an accurate representation of the album and is, as a result, somewhat irking. It begins with an attractive fusion of pulsing synths and plucked guitar, showcasing the pleasant LP that might’ve been. Alas, the vocals are introduced seemingly reluctantly before the piece descends into a strange balance of it doing everything and nothing at the same time. There are noise, tone and beats and yet there is nothing concrete to hold onto. There is no doubting that FAN and Barton’s Den had the respective ability and elements to make something great, just they weren’t put together quite in the right way. This outcome ultimately falls at the feet of Long’s multiple concepts at play; whilst the unstructured structure and shift to synth might make for a commendable piece of art, they also make for an album that’s set to be eternally difficult to listen to and a reminder of what could have been.

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