The Felice Brothers – Celebration, Florida
In an alternate universe, bizarro Stephen King sits at his typewriter in 1977, feverishly pounding out what may be his masterpiece set in an abandoned high school in Beacon, NY. The caretakers are a band from the Catskills and set about recording an album in the haunted hallways and anxious auditoriums, eerie stairwells and disturbed cafeterias. The surreal setting places the band at unease, removes their comfort zone, prods them to creativity and the loss of abandon and the joy of exuberant discovery. The creation process achieves the movie-dream vision of standing in the midst of dozens of holographic projections, manipulating them with the swipe of a hand through the air, instantly willing the slightest lark to appear and dance in a Fantasia-like manner. It is exactly this impression that The Felice Brothers give on their album Celebration, Florida.
The album begins with Fire At The Pageant, a rousing march of movement that sets the tone for the record, swirling in and out of chaos. Percussive beats, claps and slams of field recordings anchored with bass and sprinkled with anything from horns to piano, acoustic guitar, sirens and accordions in plunked out melodies combine with a dark and gloomy children’s chorus shouted for a mixture of anxiety and agitation. Call it melancholy and the infinite danceness, call it kids in a candy store, this is an album of songs that flow from sparse to frenetic, moments of aching beauty in between the songs that make your shoulders and hips move like some kind of spooky rock djs.
Released on Fat Possum Records (The Black Keys, Andrew Bird, R.L. Burnside, Paul Westerberg, Band of Horses), there is a feel of capturing the joy of creation in freedom, with twists and turns like kids through a Wonka factory, frequently surprised by clever girl veliciraptors. The album has a sense of songs written and deconstructed, smacked up, flipped and rubbed down (oh no!) and reimagined with tons of space, allowing a feel of Woody Guthrie, Michael Penn and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot era. One imagines a producer on the floor with reels and reels of audio tape and a razor blade, splicing and sweating and smoking, assembling and constructing takes that invoke an amphetaminized© Dylan or inebriated Paul Moeller.
The setting was real, sans poltergeist, and the band really recorded in an abandoned school, and the empty isolation comes through on the album. Songs like Honda Civic and Ponzi are immediately accessible and complement the bare arrangements of Oliver Stone and Best I Ever Had. And to make sure you’re listening, they don’t mind invoking a few Queen Mothers, just to keep two songs off the radio. With welcome departures from the norm and time-shifting rhythms that fold instantly and enhance the work, it’s an album that feels chaotic and cohesive at the same time. Embracing the whole Music Is Fun mentality, The Felice Brothers embody the idea that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.