When Dan Friel plays live, he does so alone, sat behind a small fold-away table covered in boxes and wires, knocking out the melodies that form the basis of his songs on a Yamaha Portasound keyboard that he’s had since he was a child and manipulating the sounds using the sprawling mess of buttons, dials and pedals in front of him. But whereas like-minded contemporaries – label-mate Jason Urick for example – use similar set-ups to generate more ambient, drone-based material, Friel’s music stands out as actually befitting of the Frankenstein-like nature of its creation; corralled from a variety of analogue and digital sources, latest album Total Folklore – his third in total, and first since the dissolution of his former group Parts & Labor – is, like Mary Shelley’s monster, a graceless, untamed and unpolished beast, but one that you can’t help but fall for. Unlike his stern-faced, academic peers, Friel is more like your typical “mad professor”, taking the kind of rousing tunes and storming, adrenaline rush rhythms that P&L excelled at and pushing them past their logical limits. Here that band’s Blitzkrieg punk rock guitars are substituted with polyphonic chords and interwoven, squealing synth lines, tweaked and distorted to high heaven, whilst in the absence of a real drummer breakneck beats are hammered out using basic keyboard presets and what could easily be a modified and amplified Duracell bunny toy. But if such a hotchpotch of features suggests a face only a mother – or a crazy megalomaniacal scientist – could love, Total Folklore is far from ugly; Friel’s medium maybe noise, but his message is most definitely pop, and every track, from near-13 minute opener “Ulysses” to shorter, sharper numbers like “Valedictorian” and “Thumper” (below), fizzes with unihibited, childlike euphoria and an optimism that is as thrilling as it is infectious.
Total Folklore is out February 18 via Thrill Jockey