In maverick Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s most recent film, a legless beer baroness dedicates her fortune to finding the nation that makes, as the movie’s title proclaims, The Saddest Music in the World. America might want to consider making Flare its national representative.
Hung, the band’s second full-length CD, is a remarkable monument to lovesick moping. Like bandleader LD Beghtol’s imposing beard, the album is impressively excessive, boasting 19 performers playing nearly 70 different instruments. This instrumental variety enables the New York City band to explore many shades of moroseness over the course of 12 tracks (and just about one tempo — slow).
Beghtol’s baritone will be familiar to Magnetic Fields fans — he sings on several of that band’s 69 Love Songs. Stephin Merritt returns the favour on this album, appearing on two songs, but sadly, his band’s sharp wit and strong melodic sense is largely absent here, lost to Flare’s overwhelming misery.
Musical misery, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing — Morrissey and Robert Smith are but two songwriters who have mined it almost exclusively for years, with excellent results. Beghtol, however, is not as articulate when it comes to expressing failed romances and dashed hopes. Many of Hung‘s songs are built upon overly repetitive lyrics, which, when paired with Beghtol’s self-pitying croon and slow-motion melodies, result in a truly tiring listening experience. On “School of Love”, he asks, “Who will teach me how to love / Who will teach me how to care / Who will promise me a life of infidelity / And who will teach me how to lie?” Each verse proceeds in a similar fashion. Beghtol continues to pester the listener with questions on “If/Then”, asking what would happen should he step outside of his role: “If I lost a hundred pounds / Would you still want me around? / And if I ever shaved my beard? Would you never shed a tear?”
Beghtol accurately chronicles a lover’s angst and insecurity — perhaps too much so, since it’s just as difficult to spend any length of time with Flare as it would be with any wounded lover who moans, as Beghtol does on “Glitter”, “Sometimes I wish that you were dead / Sometimes I wish that I were dead”. It’s wearying. There is, thankfully, one pop oasis on Hung, the wonderful “(Don’t Like) The Way We Live Now”, a dismissal of the state of contemporary relationships. The song, with its xylophone and handclaps, recalls the music on the Sixths’ first album, Wasp’s Nest. It’s as though Stephin Merritt’s presence on the track rouses the band from its torpor, albeit briefly.
It would be cruel to dismiss Hung, however, without paying tribute to the album’s lovely, textured arrangements, which give the record a much-needed injection of life. Beghtol makes great use of every one of those exotic instruments listed in the liner notes. Unexpected, playful synths heighten the ironic tone of the otherwise acoustic “‘Like’ Is a Very Strong Word”, a saw haunts “Obvious”, and banjo and harmonium add a Tom Waits-like, junkyard carnival quality to the closing track, “Wound Culture”. While these instrumental touches can’t rescue the listless songs, they do mark Flare as a band with an original voice — hopefully on its next album, the group will use that unique voice in service of stronger material.