The foreground of Fufanu's Sports lingers like a bad feeling, one that could have been more frightening by pulling closer more elements within the background.
What Fufanu lacks in emotion, they make up for in tone. For the Iceland-based post-punk band, the essence of sound is the sense that something feels wrong. It is the slow rise of goosebumps on the skin to a subtle draft; it is the peering over the shoulder in the back of a cab—could someone be following or is it paranoia? When each string and electronic element line up in their sly way, there is a compensation for the explosive. Fufanu are not loud, and yet they do not intend to be creepily quiet, as Sports indicates.
The group’s debut Few More Days to Go had this tone in mind, inputting the sensation of brittle loudness, one akin to thin ice, into the mix. However, it was amidst the alternative and post-rock sounds of bands like Protomartyr and Placebo. Fufanu had a sound in mind, not wavering vocals to find what was right: vocalist Kaktus Einarsson knew what worked for him, and the band followed along like a gang in the night. But instead of going for the louder, night-life expressions of reality with Sports, the band employ a hint of tragedy to their sound.
If this album were a film character, it would surely be the Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. From the get-go, “Sports” treats the listener like a roamer with an intention, one not necessarily brutal. Einarsson might sing about a “chocolate brownie”, but he never falters in seriousness. Guðlaugur Einarsson’s strings and Erling Bang’s drumming provides a promising look at the fine line between dancing to techno and the act of drunken swaying. These elements would also make their mark on “Gone for More”, a song with a cemetery's coldness along its tragic vocalizing and strings. The audience fights between moving like zombies to its slow vocals or dancing the night away when its electronics feel like synapses quickly reacting.
What compromises the record, however, is how the tone overwhelms the need for lyrics. The need to move, no matter how slow, is what leaves the effect on the listener; words filter through, not because Kaktus does not care, but because the more dynamic fixtures of sound are what leave one reflecting. When Kaktus analyzes his relationship in “White Pebbles”, the yearning in his vocals do much more than his holding on to sentimental things. “Your Fool” thus becomes the weakest piece on the record, being the sore thumb it is due to its sheer simplicity: it is the track on a dull indie film that heralds the protagonist’s “victory”. It becomes the band’s most normal track.
It is not that Fufanu are abnormal in their approach to instrumentation, but they still have flaws in the structure. “Liability” and “Just Me” have instrumental passages that are filler for the chorus that quickly approaches. They pop up due to their simple drumming and keyboard passages, often shedding their skin in ways that make the band look more Franz Ferdinand-like over their more effective darker shades. Throughout each track, the percussive elements are more background than foreground, taking away impact from moments that could have continued better with a loud clang than simple strikes. The closer “Restart” leaves the bad taste of hope when the album has continually drifted away from it.
Fufanu have a grasp of their sound, but what is in the background needs to be pulled closer in. Lyrics do not have to play second fiddle to a dreary tone, and Bang’s drumming needs not its simplicity that fails to break an audience’s concentration. Drums can slither their way like how the electronics do on “Syncing In”, so, too, can words. Sports is an album that slithers around the body, but rarely ever hisses.