A modest buzz surrounded Funeral Party during the summer, when they were hailed by some as heirs to The Rapture. The track which whet those appetites – ‘New York City Moves to the Sound of LA’ – sounded like a mission statement. It framed itself as the manifesto for a new generation of Californian indie disco hipsters, who are fed up of having their moves stolen by the NYC garage rockers.
The track’s job description remains the same half a year later, as it opens the band’s debut album, Golden Age Of Knowhere. The verse’s angular riff is still sure to get knees twisting and hips jutting as the band cry with the self-assurance of James Murphy, “New York City loves to mess around with the LA sound”. The punk-spirited chorus has an arty sneer, but it’s one that’s muffled by a fun self-awareness. Though there’s a lot in the track that’s recycled, it still sounds enthrallingly on trend, and that’s all to do with the confidence and energy with which Funeral Party play it. They sound like they’re simply doing what they want, even if technically they’re fairly referential, and that counts for something, and makes it all a lot more fun.
This ambivalence means they can get away with some real disco cheese on ‘Car Wars’. The bass bounces unashamedly, under attack from epileptic percussion and Seventies wah-guitar that would make Stevie Wonder wince. It’s a little dumb, but it fits into the ‘who cares?’ party narrative that Golden Age Of Knowhere has begun to construct.
The problems start when Funeral Party try to sound more sincere. Only ‘Just Because’ really works as a more contemplative track. Misleadingly, the opening lyrics are wailed loosely as the guitar tries to paste together a chord pattern, before giving up and making for a punky synth ballad that sprints at double speed. Here, the band use timeless techniques to pack a song with feeling, but build in sheer pace and vocalist Chad Elliott’s hyperactive energy.
On the other more emotional tracks that dominate Golden Age Of Knowhere, Funeral Party make the mistake of slowing down their performance. This loss of momentum forces them to decelerate into generic sounds and, too often, MOR. On a track like ‘City In Silhouettes’, Funeral Party sound like they’ve extinguished their radical fire because they feel as though they should play with ‘meaning’.
There are times when the embers of ‘New York City…’ look as though they might reignite. The tribal vocals and percussion on ‘Giant Song’ suggest that Funeral Party are keen to try something a little more experimental, but a bland chord pattern gets in the way of capitalising on this idea. Later, the bluesy electric piano on ‘Relics To Ruins’ could give Funeral Party the emotional depth they seem to crave, but they don’t trust it with enough space and turn the track into another pop song that’s desperate for a proper hook.
The thing that made Funeral Party exciting in the first place – that their sole function seemed to be to get people dancing – gets sidelined on Golden Age Of Knowhere. The album is largely stuck analysing lost feelings and past regrets, when it would have been much more entertaining if it focussed on living for the moment. The rhythm intrinsic to the band’s sound is enough to make them a danceable live act, but they’ll only ever be a one night stand. Golden Age Of Knowhere is not an album that it’s possible to have a more meaningful relationship with.
5Robert Cooke's Score