“You are going to be pleasantly surprised by this / You will find yourself sweetly insulted,” seduces Nathan Willett in the opening line of “Miami U R About 2 B Surprised,” and he couldn’t have been more right.
I remember being very surprised when I read the announcement that the Cold War Kids frontman and bandmate Matt Maust were teaming up with We Barbarians drummer Nathan Warkentin (with Haley Dekle of Dirty Projectors featuring as well) to form side-project turned supergroup French Style Furs, and now it’s finally here, with the trio releasing their debut LP Is Exotic Bait on Frenchkiss Records today.
Named after a storefront in Brooklyn and cultivated in spontaneity, French Style Furs is abstract and pulsing with the kind of creative urgency that comes with writing and recording in between shows, with Willett’s signature howls, barks, and wails giving restless life to lyrics inspired by Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton’s poetry.
Opening with the quasi-autobiographical “3 Friends,” Is Exotic Bait exudes this vivacity, confidently declaring “Damn it / We are here” after chronicling the musicians’ decision to “Live together and know nothing of it,” with “No plans / No benefits,” and asking “Could we just fly in space / And forget to exist?” If that isn’t the description of playing in a band then I don’t know what is.
Taking the dance-inspiring synth vibes explored in Cold War Kids’ last album Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and running with them, Willett and co. get downright frantic in “All The Way Down,” before transitioning into the fuzzy, vaguely U2-esque riffs of “(World In My) Bloodstream.”
Standout track “Solitary Life” opens with one of the best bass grooves of Maust’s discography so far (you can almost see him jerkily swaying on stage as you hear it) before swinging horns, Dekle’s vocalizations, and even some cowbell are layered on.
Produced by Nick Launay, whose past projects include Nick Cave (one of the Cold War Kids duo’s main influences) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Exotic Bait is steeped in the brooding of the former and the sharpness of the latter; “Miami” and “Turn or Burn” display some of the darkest and deepest vocals ever recorded by Willett, while the beat and pulse of “Christmas Card” could just as easily be filled with Karen O’s shrieks and shouts.
Complete with another beautiful specimen of cover art from Maust, Is Exotic Bait is good on its promise of being one of this year’s most pleasant surprises. Oh, and only Willett could write a song called “Ambassadors Of General Electric” and make it sexy as hell. Check it out in its full glory below: