FREE ENERGY – STUCK ON NOTHING (DFA, 2010)

Free Energy are a new band out of Philadelphia, and one with the luckiest luck in the entire free world, getting miraculously placed on the distinguished DFA record label, and having its debut album gorgeously produced and released by the one and only James Murphy. Or—and this is the one I’m having trouble with—Free Energy is just a truly kick ass band. Why is it so hard for me to admit one, and recoil with defeat on the other? Does the good outweigh the bad, or is this one just not even worth your time?

For one, and I’ll get this over quick, it’s a bit disheartening and totally annoying that you can hum “Louie Louie” over several of the album’s tracks (especially “Bang Pop”—a clear exercise in simpleton, numskull high-fivery). It’s also a bummer that both “Dream City” and “All I Know” are extremely close to being utter ripoffs of T. Rex classics—see the latter group’s “Mambo Sun” in particular. “Dark Trance,” has a melody I swear Rivers Cuomo owns the copyright on… the list just goes on and on.

But the band gets some bonus points for sounding amazing, which is likely due primarily to the production work of James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Guitars are not only appropriately shredded track to track, dueling and solo alike, but they’re also mixed and processed wonderfully in brilliant hi-fidelity stereo. Everything is thick, full, and crisp. “Bang Pop” makes use of subtle effects like slap-back that make the guitars pop like neon colors. Some clever arrangements of strings, horns, and auxiliary percussion save a track like “All I Know,” keeping some of the less-than-original compositions at least mildly interesting. And I have to give some love for the panning drum fills on “Bad Stuff”—just cheesy enough to raise a smile.

Additionally—and this is the key to Free Energy—there are the lyrics to buoy this one up a bit. Ultimately, there’s nothing terribly evil going on with Free Energy—at least nothing as insidious as with a band like Jet. At first, it seems like these guys are performing a similar function, writing pop tunes about getting wasted and chasing tail. But upon repeated listens, there seems to be an underlying optimism that finds its way into these tracks’ subconscious. And it’s a feeling that uplifts, excites, and inspires, rather than just give the listener a boner. “If you wanna get high, just open your eyes” is the kind of line that reminds us it’s not simply enough to be alive, but rather, it becomes endlessly important in this soul-sucking media overload of culture to recognize that we’re alive and remember why that is important. This album is about seizing life moment by moment through a refusal to sit still. It is about abandoning authority, and championing a neglect for inhibitions above all else. It’s wind in your hair, foam in your glass, and a summer’s worth of freedom.

Crawf

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