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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Har-di-Har - 'Feudal Kind EP'


Har-di-Har - Feudal Kind EP
Slimbeast Productions; 2012

Written by Kyle Talbot

Thinking about Cedar Falls based husband and wife freak/psych/pop-folk duo Har-di-Har I can't help drawing comparisons to the 1980's hardcore-punk band the Minutemen. Sonically, the similarities are few to none, but Har-di-Har seem to subscribe to the Minutemen's "We jam econo" philosophy better than any band I can think of. The term, coined by the Minutemen in 1985 described their band's philosophy perfectly: minimal expenses, relentless touring, an ever-expanding discography, a DIY attitude, and a rare sense of self-awareness and innovation.  

Har-di-Har have consciously or unconsciously embraced similar principles-- the band has toured relentlessly around the midwest playing shows in all sorts of unique venues, they have already released word(s) of whim EP, will release Feudal Kind EP, tomorrow and will release another new EP as soon as next March next year. They have marketed themselves in a way that is innovative, creating flash-drives with songs and artwork and a promise to upload new music at their shows. In their "spare time" they have managed to found a label/production company, Slimbeast Productions. With Slimbeast, Har-di-Har hopes to nourish the local scene as well as to create a platform in which to collaborate with other scenes and bands in the Midwest.

The DIY ethic embraced by Andrew and Julie Thoreen of Har-di-Har pervades their music. Andrew plays bass drum, trombone, and guitar/bass, while Julie handles snare, cymbals, and keys. Both sing lead or harmonize depending on the song, and it is all done without any samples, loops, or tracks. With just two members producing a full band sound, labeling the couple as a power duo is somewhat of an understatement.

Feudal Kind EP, sounds thick-- like there are more musicians than just two. It speaks greatly to Har-di-Har's musicianship that the EP sounds so full and complete without additional musicians. At the same time it is minimalistic and sounds somewhat lo-fi. To me this is the greatest strength of the EP, each sound is carefully mapped and arranged for maximum emotional impact. Similarly, the somewhat lo-fi/ live sounding recording heightens the impact rather than detracting from it, much like an early Sufjan Stevens or Elliott Smith record did.   

For the most part the EP sounds what the band sounds like live. EP centerpiece and lead single "Campaign" is sprawling and varied in it's arrangement. It's a track that is held together by layered and repetitive rhythmic vocals, an earworm of a bass line, and infrequent piano stabs. First song "Of the Tongue" plays with the idea of volume shifts-- a bass line is repeated at different decibel levels throughout the track. This track is the most upbeat of the bunch and oddly enough has somewhat of a dance-ready, four to the floor type vibe.  

The second half of Feudal Kind EP is slower paced.  "Thistle's Edge" is sparse and quiet. In this song silence is well utilized. Between verses the band makes the listener wait just a second more than one would expect before bringing guitar and vocals back into the mix. It's that kind of subtlety that makes this a track that is easy to come back to.  "Thistle's Edge" floats seamlessly into closing track "Losing You". On "Losing You" Har-di-Har really show off their distinct harmonizing ability. Spoken word vocal lines are heard periodically through the track. Barely discernable, the words become very rhythmic and add a unique percussive element to the track.  

Feudal Kind EP seems shorter than its' 20 minute or so runtime. It is the sound of a band that knows what they are playing is different and difficult to classify and it is also the sound of a band that knows their audience well. Har-di-Har use both of the above factors to their benefit by creating something fresh and different, something that is audience friendly and vaguely familiar sounding, but also very avant-garde.  

It would be one thing for a band with a DIY ethic to make great tunes, but it is another thing altogether for a band to be so incredibly self-aware and goal-oriented. The ambition of Har-di-Har seems limitless, and with what they've accomplished since forming in January of this year, it is hard to see their momentum being slowed anytime soon.