PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Dan Friel: Total Folklore

Ex-Parts & Labor member Dan Friel returns with Total Folklore, an instrumental set that marches with quotidian repetition, but also twists the mundane into something bigger.

Dan Friel

Total Folklore

US Release: 2013-02-19
UK Release: 2013-02-18
Label: Thrill Jockey

Dan Friel was a big part of the now defunct Parts & Labor, one of the great unsung rock bands of the last 10 years. In that band, Friel and his fellow players managed to combine industrial electronic sounds with rock heft without rendering their songs cold or bloodless. That band was truly innovative, crafting its own unique sound and honing it to perfection over time without ever stagnating.

Friel's latest solo album, Total Folklore, continues that propulsion of ideas. If you've heard his work, alone or with Parts & Labor, you're not likely to mistake these synth-y layers for anyone else. And yet this feels fresh, like a new collection pushing his sounds in new territories. He claims this set is inspired by commutes and walking, and though this seems like a simple space of origin, it does inform these tracks. When they're not interrupted by interstitial experiments and found sound, these instrumental tracks march with a quotidian repetition, but also twist the mundane into something more.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the epic opener and album's best song, "Ulysses". The song stomps with a heavy beat, filled up with skronky riffs and a cascading synth line rising and falling over it. The song runs for 12 minutes, never changing so much as twisting into new variations on the same theme. It slowly, subtly grows in size and swells with bright, gauzy layers. It's the next logical move for Friel's usually condensed sonic weight, an expansion into larger, more wide-open spaces. It's a song that follows its path but makes that path seem limitless, an amazing map of sound from start to finish.

It's the biggest moment and a bold start for an album that, after that, slips back into pop concision. It's by no means predictable, and vacillates between unpredictable noise experiments and fully fleshed-out tunes. There's the noodly tension of "Windmill" up against the electro-punk, catchy fury of "Valedictorian", or the found sound of traffic under isolated synth notes on "Intermission #2" leading into the skittering white-noise hooks of "Thumper". The album sways wildly back and forth between these two spaces, and manages to hit both well. "Thumper", in particular, is a strong entry, showing all Friel's pop sensibility cloaked in his equally impressive ear for finding alien textures within familiar sounds.

The album never misses and feels energetic and exciting all the way through. It's another solid chapter in Friel's musical story. In spite of that, it's also an album that sometimes feels like its missing a layer or two. Standouts like "Ulysses" and "Thumper" mesh the hazy sounds of synthesizers with pounding beats that give the songs a bit of gravitas. In other spaces, the songs are solid – see "Landslide" or closer "Badlands" – but they also feel like they are treading the same ground without stomping hard enough to make new cracks. Some moments here have a truly punk fury, something as brash and quick as it is muscled. Other moments, like the low but somehow airy hooks of "Velocipede", feel sped up without sounding thick with rock power. Songs like late-album treat "Swarm" get back to the beautiful space and rumble of "Ulysses". The albums has a hard time getting out of that song's long shadow, though, mostly because sometimes, though it's willing to make the same kind of racket, it doesn't always shake the walls with the same authority.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.