Although electronic musician and composer Dan Friel has been actively making music since before the turn of the last decade, most of it has been associated with Parts & Labor, the gummy noise-rock quartet he formed with bassist/vocalist B.J. Warshaw in 2001. A handful of small-run cassettes and CD-Rs along with the excellent Ghost Town LP (Important, 2008) pretty much constituted his solo discography, but in an age where the most cultic bands have nearly too many releases to count, Friel’s more sporadic schedule could be a blessing.
Live, Friel’s solo work is ultra stripped-down and pragmatic; his mass of sound producers is set on a piece of plywood across his lap, ringed with Christmas lights. As he performs, the analog equipment shakes with his body movement, sometimes falling off its perch completely. Given a warm and inviting presentation, it is a decidedly homemade setup — the idea is that all of his equipment can fit in a backpack. While not all of this is clear from a recording, what can come through is a basic man-made-ness. Friel’s compositions are overdriven and almost unhinged, ready to come apart at the seams (or in the case of electronics, at the edge of “shorting out”), and that sense of visceral push is audio-humanizing. They are also orchestrated very well; were one not witness to the music’s live production, one might assume these were performances of several musicians.
Friel has recently signed to Thrill Jockey, and in advance of a solo full-length coming in Spring 2013 (titled Total Folklore), the label has released a 12-inch EP consisting of two tunes and two remixes (with the second remix for a piece from the full album). “Valedictorian” is a grungy rave-up, shrill chorus-y wailing and infectious backbeats acting as though they were slicing through blown amps, offset by ringing chimes (or ringing ears), sort of like early Guided By Voices or Bakesale-era Sebadoh reimagined with loops and analog electronics. Orchestrally, the piece is extraordinarily lyrical and does follow a verse-chorus model of sorts, insofar as sounds coagulate and disperse along poppy, hook-laden impulses, but if sung, then with a mouthful of food. “Exoskeleton” is presented in both original and remixed versions (with the latter done by Moss of Aura) and is what it says: a stark carapace of searing tones and dusky loops with occasional glitchy fireworks atop an almost haunting rhythmic structure. Moss of Aura elegantly fleshes out the tune with hazy club-ready beats, removing or altering its spindly framework and tightening the groove, while retaining a dissonantly candied center.
The B-side consists of Peaking Lights’ remix of “Ulysses,” which is the longest composition on the forthcoming LP. It’s kind of difficult to contextualize this piece, because the original version hasn’t emerged on disc yet. However, it’s fair to say that Peaking Lights has done a solid job of merging Friel’s veering and puckered tones with a sunny, mid-tempo dancehall mix, layering and phasing beats against the composer’s spittle-laden exhortations. A good remix should be able to retain — even accentuate — the perceived character of the original work, while exploring the remixer’s own aesthetics. To that end, both Peaking Lights and Moss of Aura have succeeded within the blueprints given them. While the remixes don’t contain the same level of shambolic personality that the nascent originals do, they are still a testament to the fact that Friel’s work is full of possibility. And that possibility is exactly what will keep appetites whetted for the months until the release of Total Folklore.