Published Feb 16, 2021Montreal's art rock sleeper cell, Freelove Fenner, have been activated. With marching orders from the same mystical power that's given us Stereolab and CAN, the duo has complyingly climbed to the top of their neighbourhood transmission tower, rerouted the broadcast and given us The Punishment Zone, a jaunty jangle of decidedly danceable new wave numbers — sinuous, prickled, angular, lurching.
Cooked up in the cozy swell of the band's all-analog, subterranean music lab, The Punishment Zone is a diptych that pits two elemental forces against one another: the gauzy vocals of Caitlin Loney float like Chanel-scented whispers above her and partner Peter Woodford's sedulous orchestra, a riptide of slanted guitars, flutes and organs.
With arrangements that hack irreverently at the white picket fences separating new wave, no wave, punk and psychedelia, the duo proffer pop hooks on their own terms — drawing on influences that variously smack of the United States of America, TOPS (whose vocalist Jane Penny appears here as a flautist), the Cure and Pylon.
Pleasantly anodyne songs like "August Parties" conjure the familiar likes of Melody's Echo Chamber, but the band sounds most interesting when it swims against pop convention. The rhythmically ambitious "Perfect Master" is like something out of Dirty Projectors dunked in an ashtray, while the seductive 80's timepiece "Carol" conjures a smouldering dive bar with all of the fixins. Black leather jackets. Splash pools of Jameson. Lurking in the back in a ragged New Order T-shirt, a bongo-mashing maestro: life of the party.
Groovy, poised and gorgeously tilted, The Punishment Zone is a creative highpoint for Freelove Fenner, an illustrious Montreal band that continues to plumb the spooky for minor key pop prizes, with which this album abounds. May more be on the way. (Moone)