By Winnie McCroy
Straight to the top of the list of things I wish I’d tried earlier––Fischerspooner, the musical duo of vocalist Casey Spooner and programmer Warren Fischer, who churn out rocking electronica for today’s discerning listener.
The band made a splash with their first release, “Emerge” in 2000, and has returned with their sophomore album, “Odyssey,” recently released by Capitol Records.
This unassuming pair of tech-heads, who rock out weekly in hipster-haven Williamsburg, have come out with one of the best albums of the year, with a list of contributors that includes David Byrne, Linda Perry, Susan Sontag, Mirwais and liner notes by cultural critic David Hickey.
The first three tracks of “Odyssey” are solid gold hits, all the way through. “Just Let Go” is a blend of electronic beats and guitar riffs, with a resonance of early hits by The Cure. Spooner sings, “Robbed of ration, instinct gives rise/ robbed of ration, audacious and precise.” As the song reaches its crescendo, Fischer introduces blaring sirens, which rise to a piercing cacophony.
The next two tracks evoke love gone wrong. “Cloud” is a cautionary tale of losing yourself in love, with the telling lyrics, “Everything adds up to a truth, maybe now I can know me too/ I have you now, where you should be/ you are mine now, but I lost me, I’m a cloud.” The track bounces in with pop synthesizer beats and plenty of reverb in the keyboards.
My own personal favorite is track three, “Never Win.” It smacks of ‘80s emerging electronica sounds á la Dead or Alive. Love on the rocks is the theme here, with Spooner singing, “I don’t need to need you, tell me what to do, tell me what to say/ Don’t you wanna help me, tell me what to do, help me find a way.”
Meanwhile, Fischer is doing his stuff with all that technology has to offer, adding electronica in spades including drums, claps, cymbals, wau-waus and electric guitar. The lyrics and instrumentals mesh at the end as choruses play over one another in an explosive denouement.
Working every effect on the boards as though he were a kid in a candy shop, Fischer revels in incorporating as many analog sounds and live instruments as possible. As the duo, who first met in an experimental video class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later reconnected in New York, began work on this second album, they sought a richer sound, one inspired by music of the ‘70s.
The track “Get Confused” is a prime example of their success. It intros with the scratchy sample of a record player needle finding its groove, then adds chimes, electronica and sultry, haunting breaks. The effect is very Duran Duran. This last-minute addition to the album was the result of the contribution of David Byrne, who penned the lyrics especially for Fischerspooner. Additional lyric stylings come courtesy of Mira Billotte, lead singer for White Magic.
The following track, “Wednesday” melds similar worlds, leading with disco sound effects that morph into a fast-paced instrumental loop and the repetition of the lyrics “Double it.” And track ten, “Ritz 107,” is a slow, haunting, reverb-heavy trip that is positively Simon and Garfunkel meets H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”
Fischerspooner can thank Susan Sontag for “We Need a War,” one of the best anti-war songs to surface in decades. Spooner sings, “We need a war to show ‘em that we can do it, whenever we say we need a war…./ If they mess with us, if we think they might mess with us, If we say they might mess with us/ If we think we need a war, we need war.”
On their website, Spooner says, “When I approached Susan, it was September 2003. I went to her house and had this fantasy that we would pick something to work on together from my notebook of ideas. Instead, after a brief discussion, she disappeared into her library and returned 15 minutes later with a printed sheet of lyrics titled ‘We Need A War.’ I read them and said ‘I don’t think I can say the word ‘war.’ I’m not comfortable saying it.’ Sontag responded, ‘You need to get comfortable saying the word war. Your president approved 80 billion dollars for a war in Iraq yesterday.’”
The duo went on to record the song, which draws on the thinking of a military hawk to portray the irrationalities of war. The result is powerful.
“Odyssey” ends the same way it begins, with a cacophony of alien invasion/electronica sounds. The album, released on April 5, has already been named CMJ.com’s number one new album at college radio stations.
Techheads will appreciate extras like an FS “visualizer” plug-in for media players, available in the special edition digipak of “Odyssey.” But even without the bells and whistles, this release comes with plenty of old-fashioned special effects. Whether you are a fan of electronica or not, “Odyssey” will take you on an epic journey of some of the most creative musical styling––borrowing from the past but also predicting the future, and perfectly blended together.