November 26, 2004

Men in Fur "Men In Fur"

I first heard Men in Fur on the Way Things Change 7" compilation on Red Square Records. Their song on there, "Set Us Free", was written from the point of view of rabbits trapped in a laboratory, pining away for the green grass and warm sun of the outside world. When I heard that, I knew that Men in Fur was going to be something big, and I couldn't wait for their full album. And here it is. This CD is full of what the liner notes describe as "new wave songs about animals." But it's so much more than that. Rather than being an album-length vegan tweepop guilt trip, the debut Men in Fur CD is a loose concept album that mixes elements of science fiction and naturalist propaganda.

The science fiction element of the Men in Fur story is introduced on the first track, "The Messenger". From a city in outer space, where everyone speaks in poetry, this messenger came to remind the human race of what it used to be. Later in the album, "The Shepherd Song" elaborates on this theme, when a shepherd dreams of a time in the past "when animals and people got along, when birds taught children how to sing their songs, before a forge had ever made a sword, before our rights had turned into our wrongs." Another song, "Sister Moon" appears to document the time when the messenger's people left Earth in their rocketships, sung from the point of view of two people separated because one of them went on the ship and the other stayed behind.

The rest of the album contains all those aforementioned new wave songs about animals. "The Tiger Song" is about a sheep and tiger jealous of humanity's power of fire, and it humorously recounts their failures to build their own fire by rubbing sticks together. The cute singing of "baas" and "meows" on this song is worth this entire disc. "Elisa" is a moving song about a brother and sister abandoned in childhood who were raised by wolves. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of the brother, finally revealing to his sister why they're different from the other creatures of the forest ("Elisa, we are not wolves. Although we live in the woods, we're just a couple naked children. We are not animals"). Another highlight is "The Birds & the Bees", which is actually much more innocent than the title implies. Taken literally, the lyrics seem to be a love song that a bird and a bee sing to each other. (By the way, if you wonder how the animal songs are related to the sci-fi material, my guess is that they represent the parables and stories passed down by the messenger.)

Frankly, I love the concept of this album and I'm glad that Men in Fur had the ambition to lyrically aim high on this debut. I think they hit the target, managing not to seem too pretentious (a charge often levied at pop concept albums), but also managing to be cohesive and dedicated enough to the concept to have a story for those who read into it. Besides that, the songs actually stand so well enough on their own that many could make great singles. And yes, the musical portion of this material is good, too. It's a warm mix of acoustic and electric guitars, tweepop keyboards, live and programmed drums, and some other electronics. While the lyrics are the big deal on this CD, there are a couple great musical moments that really stand out. I love the backwards guitars and bubbling sound effects at the beginning of "Sam the Salmon". And the noisy fuzz guitar solos on "The Monkey Song" and "The Snake Song" are incredible. They rock with a good amount of feedback, yet they don't disrupt the general tweeness of the songs... if that makes any sense to you.

Simply put, this is just an incredible CD, a successful tweepop concept album, and all tweepop fans should get it immediately. All fans of animals should check this one out, as well.

--Eric Wolf

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