2012's most inventive and charming debut LP thus far.
Fenster have an intriguing back-story, a familiar yet startlingly new sound, and an absolutely fantastic record on their hands. The back-story includes collaborations, concussions, and concepts. Their sound comes across like a very dissected minimalist version of Grizzly Bear. Bones, all things considered, has no right to be as strong as it is. Yet, the further it uncoils itself and continuously reveals layers, it becomes next to impossible not to be completely won over.
Bones kicks things off with an utterly winsome song called “Oh Canyon” that is likely to be one of the best indie-pop songs to be released this year. There’s propulsive acoustic drumming, reverb-drenched backing vocals that call out in the distance, and a fantastic melody. All of it packaged together brings to mind the very best works of Bishop Allen. When “Oh Canyon” dies out, “Fantasy II” immediately steers things closer to Grizzly Bear territory. The similarities in not only composition but the vocals as well are astonishing. However, throughout the song, Fenster still somehow manage to miraculously carve their own identity and subsequently Bones’ identity as well.
Bones’ ensuing trio of tracks, “White to Red”, “Blue to White”, and “Gravediggers” all continue its steadfast trajectory of genuine greatness while placing a much heavier emphasis on female vocalist JJ Weihl. Both vocalists in Fenster (Jonathan Jarzyna being the other) prove to be captivating even with somewhat limited range, which plays into the bands aesthetic extremely well. It’s a point that really emerges in these three songs, as does the records central concept, which is that the songs are loosely conceived around the narrative structure of dreams. That the concept is so well played out is somewhat unbelievable, considering this is their first record after all.
So after an extremely strong start sometimes things are bound to fall apart. Structures fall to pieces, sequencing is left by the wayside, and there can be a general sense that a band has given up. If you want to know how good a record’s going to be, go to the heart of it and listen to the middle tracks as these are ultimately the most revealing. Fenster, to their credit, avoid these downfalls completely by crafting a magnificent mid-portion that actually expands on the record’s themes and ideas and becomes even more coherent in what it has to say. It’s a spectacular display of craft, skill, and understanding. While some of the songs, like the back-to-back pairing of “Fisherman” which would be worthy of an Arcade Fire album and “2.7 Xo 17” which simultaneously calls both Dark Dark Dark and Elliott Smith to mind, are slow they’re also the most revealing. What the curtains are pulled back on, ultimately, is a band that’s not afraid of experimentation but also a band that gets it incredibly right every time it tries something new.
The incredible run of songs on Bones would lead nearly anyone to doubt they could sustain their momentum during the records final portions and they nearly do on “Spring Break” before the song caves in on itself shortly after the midway point and falls into an eerie ambient section before re-emerging as a charging indie-pop song. It’s yet another example of an incredibly strong and memorable moment on an album full of them. “Killer Surfer Walker” is a kind of ominous tale disguised under the guise of sunny surf-pop and ends up sounding like it should soundtrack a David Lynch film. Bones is full of oddities like “Killer Surfer Walker” and that, along with a devotion to warm analog sounds, lends itself to much of its charm. “Golden Boy” furthers that theory by retaining that David Lynch-esque feel and remaining endlessly listenable despite being, by far, Bones’ most daringly experimental moment. “Golden Boy” is largely dominated by drones, field recordings, and delicate vocals. The results are appropriately dream-like and surprisingly haunting.
Bones comes to its close with “Gespenter” and is really the records only misstep. Had they ended with the pairing of “Killer Surfer Walker” and “Golden Boy” this album would have a shot at being a classic. Unfortunately they take things a song too far, and while “Gespenter” isn’t a bad song, it may very well be the least strong making its placement unfortunate. However, as perfect as ending with “Golden Boy” would’ve been, they still emerge with one of the most fully-realized debut LP’s there’s been in quite some time and have an early contender for 2012’s very best.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.