Dan Friel - Life

by Hayden Harman Rating:7 Release Date:2015-10-21

Last week, Brooklyn-based producer/composer Dan Friel released Life, his second full-length album for Thrill Jockey. On it, he continues to explore the same sound and style as his previous album effort, 2013’s Total Folklore. What is that sound, you may ask? It’s classic Nintendo scores by way of Tim Hecker, or perhaps MGMT if they were accompanied by a symphony of power tools, or even your local high school pop punk band’s MIDI demos produced by Merzbow. It’s noise pop rock; if we must give the music a name. But if there is just one word I could use to describe Life, it would be just plain fun.

The album might be the most child-like noise record I’ve heard. Most noise albums nowadays tend to sound cacophonous and dissonant, so it is rare for an album to sound so compositionally tight and guileless. The album opens with a relatively ambient lullaby and then, like a child waking up from a nap, dives straight into a sugar-fueled pop ecstasy for the duration of its nine songs. Friel eagerly steps over the line towards the pop side in the album’s midsection with songs like “Sleep Deprivation” and “Life (Part 1),” which also happen to be the most fun. As the album approaches the end, it loses a little steam, but clearly Friel is still having fun, as we hear on the sliding synth notes on the aptly titled “Bender.”

Friel’s songs are songs in the traditional sense, like the music of Friel’s compositional forebearer, David Axelrod. Axelrod took the complexities of jazz and fused it with rock to create accessible pop instrumentals for the masses. Friel has developed a similar aesthetic of contrasts, blending pop with noise - but unlike the thousands of other musicians creating similar juxtapositions, Friel shares Axelrod’s sense of composition where the songwriting is just as important as the individual sounds themselves.

This song-based approach makes for an engaging listen. There are twists and modulations, developments and themes, all designed to lead the listener to a specific end. Everything, including the album’s orange cover art and even Friel’s set up suggest that he wants the listener to experience power, energy and fun. You can spend time dissecting all of the sounds and details, but to do so would be to miss the point: Life celebrates the moment. And as Friel reminds us, life’s moments can be a lot of fun.

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