The Felice Brothers Want Us All to 'Undress'

Photo: Lawrence Braun / Yep Roc

The Felice Brothers take the bromide "the personal is the political" and stand it on is head and have it stick out its tongue so that the political becomes personal on Undress.

The Felice Brothers

Yep Roc

3 May 2019

America is falling apart. Let's party! This is serious; liberty is threatened by corporate greed. Take off your clothes. No, really…the country's genocidal history, its political divisions, the possibility of nuclear destruction. Shake it, baby! How is a person supposed to stay sane and live a decent life during such times? The Felice Brothers have an answer. As the title of their most recent instructs us, Undress.

Now Bob Dylan once reminded us that even the President of the United States must stand naked, but the Felice Brothers take it a step further and want to see Donald Trump and Michael Pence French kiss. They may just be being silly. The jaunty horns blaring and banging percussion underneath the song "Undress" suggest the absurdity of modern life—not just the current political situation but the country's whole homicidal avaricious history embedded in the present day. It's a mad, mad world indeed. But on this track and others, the Felice Brothers also point out that this moment is the only one in which they and their listeners exist. One also has to enjoy the positive aspects of life; love, other people, the natural world, etc. To do otherwise would deprive a person of the good things that coexist with the bad.

Undress is the folk-rockers' first new album in three years, and the two blood brothers in the band (Ian and James) are joined by two new members (drummer Will Lawrence, bassist Jesske Hume) after some players from the original act left to explore other pursuits. While only the brothers know the exact situation, interviews with them suggest things weren't going so well, and the music suffered and dragged as a result. That has changed, as evidenced by the new album. The mood is "fun" even when the songs address serious topics, which they frequently do.

The Felice Brothers take the bromide "the personal is the political" and stand it on is head and have it stick out its tongue so that the political becomes personal. They sing of putting more berries on Blueberry Hill and Charlie Parker on the ten dollar bill on "Special Announcement"; "The Kid" who kills as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder as embodying the collective guilt of the town and country, that the "Holy Weight Champ" is a sinner that even the "Salvation Army Girl" couldn't redeem, and how the "Days of the Years" breeze by.

The literary quality of Ian Felice's lyrics calls attention to themselves in the way a good story can draw one in and make one forget others in the room. However, the musical elements do more than decorate the words. The songs would be formidable even without them. Depending on the track, the musical accompaniment can be simple strumming one minute and a big band full of disparate instruments playing in complex polyrhythms the next. The overall effect suggests we are all in it together, but separately. We are more like a herd of stray cats than a band of dogs.

Ain't that America, as John Mellencamp used to sing—and like him, the Felice Brothers deliver it with a smirk but not with irony. The songs reveal the serious problems that exist and the role we all play in it. The last cut invokes "Socrates" with 24 hours left to live. At least one gets a last meal before the final drink. The Socrates of the song and its first-person narrator toasts to the health of the corrupt society; there is nothing else left but everything and everybody else. Salud!





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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