Despite the frequently Bono-tinged timbre of singer Ziggy’s voice, Found is an art school conception, through and through. This Scottish three-piece is less a traditional band than a self-professed art collective, whose music originated as mere backing music to the members’ exhibitions. These guys have even won a BAFTA for construction a sound installation based on an orchestrion from the 1800s.
Funny then that Factorycraft, Found’s debut full-length for Chemikal Underground, can feel so conventionally pop at times. It comes back to the vocals: heavily accented as they are, Ziggy croons with an open-hearted, yearning wanderlust of a very populist bent that recalls fellow Scots We Were Promised Jetpacks, and, by extension, that group’s sizable U2 influence. Ziggy even cops a few vocal tics from Mr. Paul Hewson here and there.
In contrast to the Biggest Band in the World, however, the songs from Factorycraft rarely build to proper climaxes. They may hint in the prechoruses that full-on ecstatic abandon is just around the corner, but aside from rare exceptions such as the psychedelia-beholden “Shallow”, it doesn’t come. That song and the record as a whole evoke the feeling of floating in a vast expanse, the result of minimalist arrangements and restrained instrumental sensibilities. The band’s rhythm section — which incorporates a drum machine that not so much lays down the beat as putters along — is particularly understated, with the only hint of a groove often being the stark metronomic throb of the bass guitar. There’s also a wicked sense of humor evident throughout that deflects inclinations to associate the music too closely with lumbering arena rock, be it in the song titles (“You’re No Vincent Gallo”, “Johnny I Can’t Walk the Line”) or in brazenly ludicrous lines like “You can be the perfect bitch to my bastardness” from “Every Hour That Passes”.
Even with the clinical intellectualism behind the structuring of the music, Factorycraft ultimately leans closer to conventional pop than beard-stroking art-rock. The raft of electronics Found boasts about possessing are reserved for subtle textures, and so many production touches — a Phil Spector drum beat, an oscillating tremolo guitar — come straight out of the 1960s rock ‘n roll playbook. Not that that’s necessary a sin, but the result is the songs come off as under-accomplished efforts at tuneful rock with the potential to be better realized. You get the sense that these songs could be killer if Found applied its aesthetic fixations more intently to tightening its compositions.
The mood Factorycraft generates, though, is unimpeachable. The album is paradoxically distant yet approachable, as those oh-so-human vocals draw the listener into carefully assembled soundscapes that are machinelike in their efficiency. Even if Found hasn’t quite attained a proper balance between its pop and art tendencies, the aching crispness of a song like “Machine Age Dancing” does at least affirm that these folks are on to something.