The Funs, Mike Donovan, Matchess

The Funs

Mike Donovan


Sat, May 19, 2018

9:00 pm

The Hideout

Chicago, IL


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The Funs
The Funs
Genres extract music and artists' work from the direct, immediate experience of music. Instead of describing sounds, genres often connect to fashion movements (punk), derogatory journalistic slogans (shoegaze, rhythm and blues), or confusing statements about distribution ("commercial pop," "indie rock"). When we're writing about music, we can insert these types of abstract categories into our work, but they often have the effect of separating an artist's album from their habitat, leaving much unsaid about what we experience when we are listening.

The Funs provide an exceptional challenge to the music writer. First and foremost, since the band rose through the ranks of Chicago's illegal and underground venues, the simple fact is that experiencing the band's recordings separates the listener from the band's "natural" environment. Secondly, like most independent, outsider pop bands in recent years, The Funs' music is really without genre. You could call them a punk band, but that's not quite right – their songs are often chugging, slow, and tempo-shifting. Yet, the band isn't really noisy or crazy, either — they don't mash effects pedals, they don't play with signal noise, they don't manipulate tape, etc. And, as muddy the band might sound, this certainly isn't what you'd recognize as grunge. So you see, we have a full gamut of ill-fitting categories for The Funs.

The seemingly omnipresent Manic Static released The Funs' self-titled début on cassette in 2012, and the limited edition vinyl version has hit the streets just in time for summer 2013. Throughout this album the duo streamlines their arrangements to the barest of elements. There's hardly a fuzz pedal on this one, as a guitar and booming drums propel each hazy song into its neighbor.

I've never seen The Funs live. Beyond their song-writing and recording aesthetic, that seems to be the most relevant fact of my review, so it is biased from the outset. I can crank my stereo as loud as possible, dump out all the beer I own onto the floor, and roll around in dirty laundry, and I still won't be able to accurately report the feeling of this band. There's a disconnect between reports about their shows and their recordings — this isn't a bad thing, it's simply a matter of whether or not one has the necessary trappings to enable them to touch the music. How does one appreciate party music outside of a party?

Midrange celebrations abound on The Funs. Aside from any genre signifier, the sound of the band falls squarely into the middle of the sonic spectrum. One might say that the recording is lo-fidelity, but that's not really true: individual elements are perfectly clear, it is simply that their range converges. For example, this influences the guitars, which sound clean enough taken on their own terms but bleed together with the drums so profusely as to form a heavy layer of sonic grit.

Without crazy effects or tape manipulation, Jessee Rose Crane and Philip Jerome Lesicko use tempo shifts and dynamic responses between their guitars and drums to build textures and accompany their chugging chord structures. On "Reality," the outcome of a slithering arpeggio is dirty hypnosis, and steady, thwacking drums on "Dead Days" slice right through a jangling chord sequence.

Whether pieced or sequenced together, The Funs reaches a level of intensity through its changes of pace. "Moon" is strangely similar to "Dead Days," for example, but after the slower "Dead Days," The Funs immediately kick- start a series of blissful, driving sequences to build the plot of the release. Abrupt stops or endpoints characterize the songs: suddenly, "Moon" just ends, there is a palpable silence… then "Memory" resumes at an even slower pace. Back and forth, these changes become entrancing.

In the end, pop music endures through the beauty and power of its experiences. The Funs' début ultimately supports the argument against genres and classification, instead preferring straightforward statements. If you've seen The Funs live, this review probably does little justice to their approach to pop music; if you're like me and you can't see them live, their recordings showcase simple sounds suitable for basements, bars, and illegal venues. From their midrange haze, the group hypnotizes their listener while hiding nothing in their sleeves.
Mike Donovan
Mike Donovan
San Francisco based musician born in 1971. He formerly ran Dial Records (2) and is currently the owner of the Folding Cassettes label.

Through the 90s he was a member of The Ropers, has been a member of The Church Steps since 2000 and is currently in Sic Alps as well as playing with a slew of other musicians and bands.
The Rafter appears amidst the Matchess Trilogy -- Seraphastra, Somnaphoria, and Sacrecorpa (forthcoming) – a temporary diversion into darker psychedelia and, at once, deeper mindfulness. The title is derived, in part, from a transcendent experience by Ólafur Kárason of Ljósavík, the central character of the novel World Light by Halldór Laxness. Though he has been all but abandoned in the barn loft by his foster family, Ólafur is sustained by his unwavering drive to become a true poet. After suffering injuries and illnesses from farm work and neglect, the bedridden child stares at the angled roof, facing his death. Only at the point of utter disorientation does Ólafur discover the light of the world descending from The Rafter.

“So he lay there hovering between life and death, and time passed—or rather, time ceased to pass. Day and night, weekdays and Sundays, no longer succeeded one another in the order laid down by the calendar issued by the Icelandic National Society; there was no longer any distinction between one and two. The narrow became broad and the long became short of its own accord and without natural cause; there was no relationship between things. The fever pushed life and all consciousness onto another plane where all measures of time were wiped out, where one did not know what one was nor what one had been nor what one would become, nor what would come next; one was a compound of the greatest dissimilarities of existence, one was God, one was eternity, one was a glowing spark or a strange rhythm, one was the ream or the river or a girl, one was a bay down by the sea and there was a bird, one was the part of the homefield wall that faced the mountain. Events were always incredibly varied, one novelty after another, without rule or logic.

Occasionally he was washed up on the shores of reality, but only for a short spell at a time; he just had time to wonder at how quiet and uneventful everything was in reality. He could not understand how people could live a whole lifetime in this dreary sphere of consciousness called reality, where one thing corresponds to another and night separates the days and everything happens according to the laws of nature, and this is such and such, and that follows this. But fortunately he soon drifted back into the realm of improbability where no one knew what followed which, where nothing corresponded to anything, where everything was possible, particularly the incredible and the incomprehensible. Before he knew it, his being had once again become a welter of hallucination and consolation and lightning flashes and God and release form reality and from human strife and human reason, from life and from death.

But then he opened his eyes one day and it was all over. It was just like waking up in a normal way, the day was like any other day, and there was a tiny patch of sunshine on the rafter above him... He said no more and did not mind not having died. Actually he was a little disappointed, even though that patch of sunshine was on the rafter; the world of perception was unbelievably poor compared with the world of hallucination.”

The Rafter looks upward, waiting for the sun to move. This single spot of sun becomes a golden chariot, baptizing Ólafur into the light of the world. Among the sounds used to compose The Rafter, the “bull roarer” stands out, a musical artifact of prehistoric Scandinavia used to call across great distances. The cover artwork by Heather Gabel includes carvings in the Kivik King’s Tomb in Skåne, Sweden and images of other objects and artifacts found inside.

Three sinister hallucinations – The Fog, The Wind, and The Rafter – are offset by three sigil mantras – Alite, Awdo, and Aweh. While recording The Rafter, Matchess devised the sigil mantra lyrical practice to sublate seeming contradictions (“aufheben” in Hegel and Marx), a merger of Austin Osman Spare’s theory of the sigil with the transcendent mantra of deep meditation. Through the trance-induced repetition of a sentence or phrase, some syllables disappear while others unite, and the resulting sigil mantra is both a unique personal possession and an aspect of universal consciousness. Do you recognize these breaths: Alite, Awdo, Aweh? Have you ever encountered a malicious hallucination? Perhaps under the right conditions, The Rafter can liberate the listener through the guided sigil mantra practice, witnessing a shady reflection of the light of the world.

“When the sign is clarified
the old world light will bring the silence.”
Venue Information:
The Hideout
1354 W. Wabansia Ave
Chicago, IL, 60642