Album Reviews

Felix – Oh Holy Molar

(Kranky) UK release date: 23 April 2012

Recording in a massive 1940s cinema and subsequently discovering a dental laboratory under the live space after they’d finished recording is a great backstory. But it is the ability of Felix to exploit the idiosyncrasies of the recording space to their fullest that flavours this album.

Nowhere is this more evident that on Who Will Pity The Poor Fool. Full of echoing piano and occasional shimmering strings, it succeeds in its utilising the acoustics of the cinema to full effect with the band sounding almost lost in a vast expanse. The band themselves sound full and graceful, at odds with the sparse songs that populate the album elsewhere, but on this track they sound as if they’re giving praise in an empty cathedral.

It’s this notion of emoting in the ether, shouting at the sky, or indeed pissing in the wind that colours what Felix do. Their songs are remarkably stripped back and beautifully brittle, yet for such sparse compositions they manage to be packed with emotion and confusion. Take opening track The Bells for example. It is an elegant, laid back piano ballad that initially appears to be about house prices, and not unlike house prices, the mood is changing constantly. This is chiefly down to vocalist Lucinda Chua’s incomprehension about how people know so much stuff. “Is it down to reading books?” she ponders as she swings back and forth between wonder and forceful questioning. Chua once again cuts a confused character on Sunday Night where she begs “tell me, do you have the answer?” The song itself threatens to engulf her vocals completely, the basic two note piano riff thundering over her voice.

All of which might lead to the conclusion that Chua is something of a delicate flower. Hate Song goes some way to scotching such a notion as she makes no attempt to disguise her hatred for her partner as she lists irritations and states quite clearly that there’s no love between them. Rather than being sad, the pure ferocity of her words elevates the song to the level of a one sided prize fight, where there’s been a KO in the first couple of seconds. Chua practically does a victory dance as she vents her spleen. As beautiful as her piano is, the vitriol that pours out makes for a barbed couple of minutes.

Don’t Look Back (It’s Too Sad) lightens the mood a little, which is unexpected, considering the title. Its piano riff skips along playfully as Chua evokes Joanna Newsom effortlessly and guitarist Chris Summerlin interjects with some almost tropical diving chords. “Anyone who knows what love is will understand” whispers Chua, yet there’s hints of positivity here. After all it’s about not looking back, only forward; unlike Hate Song, which focuses clearly on the present, and handing out a kicking.

Yet despite the brief respite of Don’t Look Back and the summery tones of Pretty Girls For the most part this is a sombre affair filled with uncertainty and upset. Blessing Parts I and II are dark and moody piano pieces that rack up a considerable amount of tension using choral vocals and a repetitive single piano note. It’s not so much a blessing, more a soundtrack to the last few seconds of life. Rites is awash with dour tones and the unremitting imagery found in lines like “you’re going to kill all my enemies and bury the bodies”. If Don’t Look Back represented the summery side of Felix, then this is winter rain hitting cemetery mud.

The two note piano trick gets slightly overplayed on Practicing Magic, but then it represents the only real misfire rather than a lack of ideas. This is an utterly intriguing and unsettling album.

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Felix – Oh Holy Molar

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