The story whereby a band releases much loved debut featuring infectious crossover lead single to adoration and critical acclaim, only to release more commercial follow-up albums and subsequently find themselves abandoned and eventually forgotten by their formerly adoring, but now snide disregarding audience is a cliché so passé in itself that it has become little more than a brush with which to tar supposed indie elitists.
Persecution complex aside, Hot Hot Heat are a perfect cautionary tale in this regard. When guitarist Dante DeCaro left after Make Up the Breakdown he seemed to take with him much of what made that album such fun. On albums two and three, Elevator and Happiness Ltd., the remaining members of HHH straightjacketed the exuberance of their debut in favour of beige MOR indie-rock, like a less obnoxious Kings of Leon, but (and here’s the main thing) minus the record sales, mainstream profile and festival headlining slots. In other words their bid for mainstream success was a total failure and their return to their roots on 2010’s Future Breeds may have been their best album since their debut, but it was merely a mitigating gesture. Too little, too late.
If you’re not familiar with Fur Trade you might wonder why I am chuntering on about Hot Hot Heat so much. The reasons are two-fold; firstly, Fur Trade is a side-project comprising HHH frontman Steve Bays and Parker Bossley of fellow Canadians the Gay Nineties; secondly, Don’t Get Heavy is very much like the adventurous second (and second best) album that Hot Hot Heat never made. That’s not to say it comes anywhere near Make Up the Breakdown in quality, but in surpassing the rest of HHH’s back catalogue it shares that record’s awkwardness melodicism and gleefully uncool energy, giving Steve Bays a chance to rediscover his fast and loose vocal (in)discipline. The breathless vocal delivery on passages of ‘In Between Dreams’ and ‘Can You Dig It? (Yes I Can)’ are particularly thrilling as they spill over the constant changing up of rhythm and style. ‘In Between Dreams’ even breaks down midpoint into a would be acoustic psychedelic trip, which is in all honesty a drag, but the two and a half minutes of foreboding Faint-esque synthpop and toy piano sweetness are a delight and credit is due as much to Bossley as it is to Bays.
Despite Fur Trade's frankly absurd self-description as an 'experimental electronic yacht duo', the electronic aspect of their sound is far from revelatory and the 'yacht rock' is only evident on the Duran Duran-esque ‘Same Temptation’, which comes replete with saxophone and funk-lite guitar. Fur Trade are tinkering studio engineers rather than electronic music pioneers. For all its energy Don’t Get Heavy sounds fussed over with mixed results. The lithe neon lit title-track (which could be accurately titled ‘Do Get Breathy’) benefits from subtle panning that prevents it falling into the trap of clumsy r’n’b-indie schtick à la Pop Etc.; ‘Burning the Locals’ is all the more infectious for the earworm from the intro refrain burrowing its way through the song across different instrumentation and the sugary adornments of the punchy New Wave number ‘Praying to the Lottery Ticket God’ successfully distract the listener from its woeful lyrics.
Conversely, although they rarely want for a good hook, Fur Trade still seem to feel they have to compensate with extraneous studio trickery; ‘Voyager’ is a garishly overcooked synth-pop nightmare and the dirty piano-stomp of ‘Glory Daze’ is overloaded with extraneous phased drums and other effects. Likewise the sheer pile-up of ideas betrays the fact that some songs are made-up of half-formed sketches, such as the combination of burbling synth and country balladry on ‘Our Life Starts Now’.
Lead single ‘Kids These Days’ and the very Hot Hot Heat-esque stuttering organ of album closer ‘Pleasure Bound’ are strong proof that Fur Trade can do more with less. The overarching impression that Don’t Get Heavy gives of this nascent duo is one of all old strengths rediscovered and new strengths waiting to be fully realised. It’s a decent enough starting point.
6Neil Ashman's Score