Click to hear: “2 Hearted Horse”
For almost a decade now, a small but loyal part of Portland’s music scene has been relying on couple Brian and Tara Cohen and friends to deliver the kind of 30-minute homemade rock records they make better than anyone else around. The Cohens’ new project, Fur, with bassist Greg Bazinet, doesn’t stray very far from the sound of their previous band, The RattleSnakes (Bazinet was in that group too). But by sticking to their DIY roots and not being dicks about it, they have shown you can improve your craft without moving out of the basement.
2 Hearted Horse doesn’t aim to expand the fan base. The first track, “Great Western Plain,” suggests they might know their audience a bit too literally. The song pays tribute to the Maine rock trio of that name, while also sounding like my old band Brenda’s “Intro,” which was really just a sped-up version of my older band Cult Maze’s “Iceberg,” which shares its title with an old RattleSnakes tune. “Plain” is energetic and works here as an opener, but there are better things to come.
The next track, “Secrets,” highlights the somewhat poppier direction Fur has taken. Sometimes you miss former RattleSnake Brian Houdlette’s second guitar; without it, Brian’s guitar can sound a little skeletal in places. But Tara’s strong vocals, complete with self-harmonizing, often make up for whatever feels missing. It can be difficult to flesh out your sound when you go from being a quintet to a trio, but Fur knows how to work with what they’ve got. (Besides, the ’Snakes were originally a three-piece comprised of the Cohens and drummer Mike Cunnane.)
Brian and Tara (who’s now on drums) share the bulk of the singing duties on Horse, with Greg lending his voice to a couple deep cuts. There’s an interesting contrast between the vocal stylings displayed here. Tara’s voice can lift a song to new heights (as on “Ghost” and the title track), whereas Brian’s slacker monotone croon works better on some songs than others. When he sings, “I’m 32, I will not improve,” on “Bronze,” he doesn’t sound like he’s giving up, just appreciating the fact that, while he may not be selling millions (or even hundreds) of records, the basement will always be there after work and a gig at Mathew’s is seldom more than a month away. Other times, like on the so-so “Wishing Well,” it can drag things down a bit.
“Bronze” is the album’s centerpiece (yes, albums are like table settings; the good ones have centerpieces). With its Monster-era REM guitar-feedback intro and odd verse/bridge/outro structure, the song is so laid back and simple that it dares you to call it anything else. Fur is great at taking a simple chord structure and keeping it from feeling tired. Add a reference to defunct local band Diamond Sharp (who named themselves after a Pavement lyric), and you have a recipe for indie-rock heaven — or hell, depending on your beliefs.
“Bronze,” along with “Visions,” “Ghost,” the title track and the closer, “Bands,” are among the best songs these three have produced in any incarnation. There’s enough evidence of “improvement” here to make you suspect Brian’s full of shit.
— Peet Chamberlain
2 Hearted Horse is available at local record shops and at fursounds.bandcamp.com.