It’s tough to name-check windmills without bringing up the image of tilting at them. The unhinged squalls that rattle throughout Total Folklore, the second solo album from Parts & Labor’s Dan Friel, honor the characters implied in the track list. Like Ulysses and Don Quixote, Total Folklore is both bitingly clever and completely insane.
Through an inscrutable network of synths, pedals, and scavenged machinery, Friel floods familiar pop structures with alien noise. While some electronic music doesn’t mind bearing the stamp of a particular Ableton patch or Moog preset, none of the textures on Total Folklore can be traced to a recognizable source. The squealing ”Valedictorian” plays out like a pop punk hit encrusted with sugar and rust, while “Thumper” pierces its weighty stomps with needle-sharp riffs. Battered drum machines carry most of the beats, but some tracks, like “Landslide”, might well be tethered to a real kit.
A 13-minute behemoth of an opener, “Ulysses” throws its shadow over most of the record by virtue of its sheer size, even if it’s not Total Folklore‘s strongest piece. The track feels as candy-coated as the tracks beneath it, plodding along a regular crunch and building melodies within discernible boundaries. The real mania picks up in the laser-bullet storm of “Windmills” and freewheels throughout the rest of the record, slowed only by a few unnecessary “Intermission” sketches.
While Friel’s solo debut shied away from the scale of Total Folklore, 2008’s Ghost Town boasted more humor, quirk, and warmth than this sophomore release. It’s an even trade; Friel renders the big and the brash about as well as he does the subtle and wry. Total Folklore doesn’t stray far from the scratchy kaleidoscopics established in its first few minutes, but it keeps the madness churning throughout.
Essential Tracks: “Valedictorian”, “Thumper”