Dan Friel - Total Folklore

8/10

There are jerks who will sneer at your setup and say if you’re gonna rely on the built-in laptop speakers, bro, you’d get a more satisfying aural experience standing next to a cement mixer. There are older, beardier jerks, too, who will try to convince you that electronic music has been the death of songwriting, and digital audio the spit on its grave.

In short, there are jerks in this world –  jerks just raring to rag on the music you like and the way you listen to it. (But you are a music listener on the internet, and know this well enough.)

What could jerks have to do with Total Folklore? This joyful little geode of an album – a 38-minute pocket of melodies that cluster, sparkle, and spike – has a powerfully anti-cynical energy to it, like a jerk-repellent amulet. It’s a logical continuation of 2008’s Ghost Town and Dan Friel’s work with the now-dissolved Parts & Labor; the synths squeal high, grizzle low, and describe an emotional vocabulary so broad that the 5-year wait seems to feel less long, the break-up less sad.

The thing is, this is the kind of album that does merit some audiophilia. It’s not that there’s a wrong way to listen to Total Folklore – just that there are ways that are, perhaps, righter?

Take ‘Valedictorian’. Free to download from Friel’s website, the song has likely been streamed on hundreds of iPhones, charming hundreds of drunkish students already, with its Dan Deacon-meets-Japanther combination of bloodythudding punk-rock heart and gleaming robot mouth. But it deserves better!

You don’t need a fridge-sized sound system and a musicology degree. Just ramp up the -fi as high as your means allow. Grab a decent pair of headphones, and ‘Thumper’ careens upward from “cool potential ringtone” to “find someone to marry then marry them to this”-levels. Thwack in a pair of cheapo USB speakers, and the eponymous thumps start to come into full black-and-purple bloom. Hook up to your dad’s stereo from the ’90s and all the textures and layers of ‘Landslide’ shiver into focus, a vivid little ecosystem just waiting for David Attenborough to narrate it.

It would be total folklore to say, for instance, that vinyl is the only way to really appreciate music; but the idea that a good song will transcend any limitation of technology, context, or our frail attention spans, is as much of a fairytale. Maybe, somewhere in between these ideas, there’s a folk truth, something we know in our blood: that the human body likes to feel a bass tone coursing through it! That a human brain derives joy from negotiating a range of sounds! That a human being likes to experience music loud and clear! And as one hears Total Folklore unfurling, revealing its intricacies and idiosyncracies… it almost seems like the music enjoys itself more, too.

So though audiophile rhetoric might apply to Total Folklore, it’s a gentler, more filthy-hippie approach than the jerkspeak mentioned above. Something more like rearing an animal, or tending a crop; along the well-tilled lines of “you get what you give”.