The Truth Is That I Feel Better Because I've Forgiven Everyone
"Was that a freaking harpsichord I heard? In a frothy pop-rock epic?
Fuck yes it was.
Laugh all you like; you won't temper my enthusiasm for this record. Though I might not call it an "epic," "frothy" is a pitch-perfect description of Aim & Ignite, the debut record from indie-pop group fun. (yes, there is a period in their name, and this parenthetical aside is an effective way for me to illustrate it without using a double-period, which would be stupid). It's frothy and bubbly and tickles the ear with playful melodies, honest lyrics, soaring crescendos and a general good-time attitude. Nate Ruess has finally found his happy place, and he is absolutely unafraid in declaring it.
All of the qualities that Ruess began to shape on the last Format record have been embraced and embellished by his fun. bandmates--Andrew Dost of Anathallo (huh?) and Jack Antonoff of Steel Train--on Aim & Ignite. The showy songwriting, rich arrangements, the incredible vocal range; they're all rolled into an album that would aptly be described as displaying a degree of theatricality. A few traditional rock-style songs aside, most of the record's tracks are little tales unto themselves; dynamic compositions with plentiful tempo and tone changes, snappy vocals and absolutely gorgeous string and horn arrangements. The songs of fun. often begin with quiet lyrics and sparse instrumentation, build steam giddily through a couple of verses and choruses, and happily burst into a falsetto-led climax during an interlude, an ending, or both.
"Happily" is certainly one of the more operative words I could use in describing Aim & Ignite. Though Ruess' past work has been pretty upbeat musically, his lyrics have always been cynically clever. With fun., however, he seems finally able to let loose the optimist underneath the hipster clothing; the album's more introspective songs--"Be Calm" and "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)", for instance--are still vibrant and playful, and even the lone pining-for-a-girl tune ("All The Pretty Girls") is unabashedly upbeat, tinged with clear and beautifully-mixed strings and earnestness, as Ruess sings "your friends talk music/I say I've never heard the tune/But I have, I just hate the band/Cause they remind me of you," and asks "Please don't make me face my generation alone." His voice here is smoother and more adventurous than it's ever been, moving from one end of his range to the other with deft and ease. The album as a whole reflects this effortlessness as well, shifting gracefully from bouncy to delicate to show-tune (yes, really) to rocking and back without a single misstep in its ten tracks. Every string, horn, guitar and bass note is crisp and perfectly mixed; the record's production is superb, especially for a band without a label.
Does it seem as though I love this record? Because I love this record. I've been listening to Aim & Ignite at least twice a day for two weeks leading up to its release (thanks, Grooveshark!), and even now I find it impossible to concentrate on writing a review while it's playing. I want to hang on every note and find something new in every playback. I want to replay the solo from "At Least I'm Not As Sad..." and try to parse the horns from the guitars; I want to revel in the "nah-nah-nah"s in "Walking the Dog" and in the quiet beauty of "The Gambler," and I want to blast this album from my car windows for the rest of the summer. In short, Aim & Ignite is everything I'd hoped for: it's honest and quirky and buoyant and effusive and flawlessly put together. It might make the cynics among you giggle at its breezy nature despite the confidence with which it's delivered, but you'll be hard-pressed to keep a smile off your face.
Sean Kufel is an engineer who, sadly, does not drive trains. He can be found in Marietta, Ohio, writing about music during breaks in his nerdery.