When a record like Folkloric Feel engages us with an idiosyncratic production style, its conception of sound forcibly alters our stubborn perception of pop music. This shift in consciousness is enabled more by electricity and geometry than the chemistry of musicians; simply put, it’s all about the coaxing of a sound wave from its source followed by the methodology of its capture. We are given an unexpected pedagogy in how sounds are identified and processed, one that liberates our usual assumptions.
One could argue that Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It in People was the last album to offer this kind of immediate sonic revelation. Folkloric Feel improves and expands its predecessor’s palette, and not coincidentally; Andrew Whiteman, the man behind Apostle of Hustle, does time as guitarist for Broken Social Scene. Along with drummer Dean Stone and bassist Julian Brown, Whiteman expands You Forgot It in People‘s province into a veritable hemisphere: Folkloric Feel is a touchstone of arty indie-rock, sheer aural poetry draped in the guise of pop.
The Apostle of Hustle project was inspired by Whiteman’s two-month stay in Cuba, but the music of that country isn’t blatantly injected into the record’s bloodstream. If there is a Latin influence, it’s conservatively suggested in droplets: the thumbed guitar motif and resonant drum thwomps in the gorgeous Arto Lindsay residue of “Baby, You’re in Luck” and the spacious percussion congregating in the recesses of the sweetly sublime ballad “Animal Fat” are the most obvious examples.
In fact, the record’s first song, the seven-plus-minute title track, begins with a melody more reminiscent of kabuki theatre than the streets of Havana. This song is really made up of three distinct movements: one, a wiry bustle of acoustic guitar, bass, and drums in the aforementioned kabuki style; two, a wickedly catchy instrumental piece, which in addition to recycling the drum pattern from Broken Social Scene’s “Cause = Time”, burns its fringes in distortion; and three, the suite’s calm-after-the-storm within the mantra of “Everything’s in place / It’s on”. It’s a stunning start to the record and, while admittedly audacious, sets in motion the unpredictable streak to follow.
The liberal acknowledgement of space is felt throughout Folkloric Feel; most of its songs allow the instruments to flare like embers on a deserted city street, like a tomcat jumping from trashcan to trashcan in a darkened alley. This is balanced by a kind of heightened minimalism, those moments where Apostle of Hustle piles its layers of simplicity into a tower of full-fledged Spectorization. “Sleepwalking Ballad”, an intoxicating ode to disorientation, swells and fades around deceptive repetition like Jeff Buckley in a slow motion hurricane. Dissonant sounds flirt on the song’s outskirts, which eventually crescendos into a giant release reminiscent of You Forgot It in People‘s “Lover’s Spit”. There’s a singing-in-traffic vibe to the horn-speckled “Energy of Death”, which offers intriguing intuitions: “All the gods are driving us in ways we do not understand”. Complex polyrhythms and round-robin vocals boost the propulsive “Kings & Queens”, a vicious little riff lights the fuse of “Dark Is What I Want/Strutters’ Ball”‘s fuzzscape, and a mixture of crude programming and organic instrumentation concocts the hypnotic wash of “Song for Lorca”.
Whiteman has stated his desire to “make the aural equivalent of [poet Federico García] Lorca’s words” in the drafting of Apostle of Hustle’s debut. His success depends on highly subjective criteria, but as I stated earlier, Folkloric Feel is palpably poetic. While not exactly the work of a surrealist, Folkloric Feel is impressionistic, at times mythic, and unabashedly human. These traits are felt in Whiteman’s lyrics as well: see the delicate, knowing brushstrokes of lines like “The line of her headband into the night of her ears” (“Song for Lorca”) and “Love destroys all photographs, it’s true” (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”).
Dave Newfeld, the producer who did wonders for You Forgot It in People, returns to helm the console for Folkloric Feel. He helps to coax sounds that are raw but babied, akimbo but cleverly layered, refreshingly defiant in the face of orthodoxy. One of Folkloric Feel‘s hallmarks is its use of space (excavating breathing room and then suffocating it) and apparent opposition to normal noise reduction practices. As forgers of new adventures in hi-fi, Newfeld and Whiteman expose rips in the cellophane and cracks in the windowpane.
Many members of Broken Social Scene make cameo appearances throughout Folkloric Feel, but it’s really the triad of Whiteman, Stone, and Brown that set its wheels fluttering through impressionistic canvases. Folkloric Feel is easily as good as You Forgot It in People; it’s preposterous that the same press machine that hailed the latter has yet to jump all over the former with a similar passion. Simply put, to miss out on Folkloric Feel would be to miss out on some of the most extraordinary sounds of the year.