Fischerspooner: #1

Adrien Begrand

It's been a long time since someone married high art, high fashion, pop culture, and pop music as well as the eclectic pop duo Fischerspooner have done.



Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2003-02-25
UK Release Date: 2002-07-15

It's been a long time since someone married high art, high fashion, pop culture, and pop music as well as the eclectic pop duo Fischerspooner have done. You've got the carefully-laid out CD booklet photo spread, the Karl Lagerfeld fashion shoots, the slick, eye-popping videos, the lavish live shows that seems to resemble a cross between Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Kiss, and an Andy Warhol happening, and it's all well and good, but most importantly, what about the music? Are Fischerspooner legitimate artists, or just the 2003 version of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, nothing but a couple of hipster doofuses with a carefully-honed image who possess no actual musical talent whatsoever?

Chances are, you've seen Fischerspooner, or perhaps heard people talking about them before you've even had a chance to hear their music, and it's admittedly hard to get their striking visual images out of your head once you do give their debut album, #1, a listen. However, if you do manage to just let the music speak for itself, you'd be surprised at how good it actually is. Over the past few years, the burgeoning genre of urban hipster, retro-style techno music commonly known as "no wave", or "electroclash" has spawned a large amount of mediocre outfits (Mount Sims), a fair number of reasonably good acts (Miss Kittin, Ladytron, Chicks on Speed), and only a couple of truly original artists. Foul-mouthed electro-queen Peaches is one of them, and take my word for it, Fischerspooner is the other.

Formed in New York in 1999 by old friends Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, Fischerspooner takes that minimalist, early '80s synth-pop sound that electroclash so heavily bases its sound on, and breathes new life into it. Never a part of any electronic music scene in the first place, they just blindly went into this project with Fischer's minimal synthesizers (influenced by the likes of Kraftwerk, Human League and New Order, more specifically, "Blue Monday"), Spooner's often twisted lyrics, and the duo's own warped vision of what good modern pop music should be like, and they've managed to accomplish something that only Peaches has done in that whole electroclash genre before: create minimalist electronic music that transcends the constraints of the genre, sounding fresh, energetic, and most importantly, human.

While Spooner serves as both the lyricist and the flashy, chameleonic frontman (including one look that resembles a goth Robert Plant gone Bollywood), it's Fischer's musical compositions and synth arrangements that make the album itself so interesting. The album's first four tracks get things off to a superb start. "Emerge", the band's signature song, and most famous single, is the best of the lot, employing a synth line that bears a strong similarity to "Blue Monday", but takes the song in another direction, as Spooner spouts the album's own mantra of "Sounds good / Looks good / Feels good too", and the song bursts into frenetic beats and an incredibly catchy chorus, sung by backing vocalist Lizzy Voder. On the other hand, Fischerspooner's outstanding cover of Wire's 1979 song "The 15th" sounds beautifully soulful, with sensitive vocals by Spooner, and a surprisingly lush arrangement by Fischer that makes you wonder why nobody tried a synth-pop cover of this song sooner. "Sweetness" brings a sinister, almost punk-like energy to the fore, while "L.A. Song" has an unsettling, spacey quality to it.

The rest of #1, while not possessing quite the same catchiness as the first 20 minutes, never gets dull, either, ranging from ambient ("Tone Poem", whose lyrics were apparently swiped from some scribblings in an old physics textbook), to robotic ("Invisible"), to pure '80s pop ("Turn On"), to some flat-out contagious dance beats (the Gary Numan-ish "Natural Disaster"). The album is bolstered by the inclusion of Junkie XL's rousing, nine minute remix of "Emerge", but the other bonus track, the scatologically-obsessed "Megacolon", has Spooner marking a new nadir in sophomoric lyric-writing, with some of the sickest verses since The Mentors' infamous '80s tune, "Anal Vapors".

Despite the strength of this album, Fischerspooner is best enjoyed as a multimedia act, and to Capitol Records' credit, they have included the first printing of the CD with one hell of a bonus DVD. These days, most bonus DVDs include a video or two, and little else, and are often watched once, and soon forgotten after that, but this treat for Fischerspooner fans is really something special. It has a highly entertaining, 23-minute documentary, four music videos (including the brilliant 2003 version of "Emerge"), a selection of seven artfully trippy concert projections that they use in their live shows (complete with accompaniment by the tracks they're for), a DVD-ROM "digital music feature", a total of 13 audio remixes, a chronicle of all their live shows up to the end of 2002, many photos, album and poster artwork, and even the entire album on audio. In addition to all that, it also has Dolby 5.1 Surround capability. Personally, I have never, ever seen a bonus DVD like this, and both Fischerspooner and Capitol have to be commended.

Even though it was originally released in Europe in 2001, and last summer in the UK, #1 still sounds fresh, with that same lightning-in-a-bottle feeling that Prodigy's The Fat of the Land had nearly six years ago. It's shallow, pretentious, flamboyant, catchy, and just plain freaky at times, but unlike all the empty pop music you hear on mainstream radio today, this is one pop album that gets it right for once, and what a pure blast it is. Electroclash music has yet to prove it has any real staying power, any real cultural relevance, but in the next couple years, #1 just might be the record that outlasts all the others.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.