Sound Kapital is an album of the time and place that inspired it and continues to resonate socially, politically, and musically ten years on.
I’ve been working on this retrospective review of Sound Kapital from Handsome Furs (which marks its tenth anniversary in 2021) for a number of weeks now in fits and starts. I’ve been struggling to place the ten-year-old album in time because so much of its thematic and lyrical content is more relevant today than it was in 2011 (when it was very relevant). It is by far the most successful of the three records Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry recorded together, but it is also the last: the band (and Boeckner and Perry’s marriage) ended in May 2012, a month shy of Sound Kapital’s first anniversary and two months before it was named to the Polaris Music Prize Short List for the year. Just as brightly as its synth-fueled flame burned, it seems as if Sound Kapital’s (and Handsome Furs’) fire permanently went out, with Boeckner moving on to work with Divine Fits, form Operators, and revive Wolf Parade.
As Boeckner’s focus and creative output shifted, Sound Kapital and the whole of Handsome Furs’ output seemed destined to become a footnote relegated to history. But in 2018, Operators took to the stage to play sets of Handsome Furs songs, focusing in large part on Sound Kapital. As the title of one of the album’s key tracks implies, Sound Kapital has always felt like “Memories of the Future,” a record whose brilliance and relevance grew stronger the further removed in time it became. In a recent interview with Exclaim, Boeckner touches on the continued resonance of his former band’s final album in the territory that inspired it. Specifically, he refers to “Serve the People,” a song recognizing Burmese band Side Effect, whom Handsome Furs first met while travelling in Southeast Asia. Side Effect are the kids “Making noise with their generators on,” eluding authorities by playing their rebel music underground (literally). In the interview, Beockner says that Side Effect’s Darko C. has told him that people have been playing ”Serve the People” during recent anti-government confrontations in the streets following the military coup.
Given Boeckner’s personal history with both Sound Kapital and the whole of Handsome Furs’ canon, I can understand why it would take some time, distance, and perspective to come back around to some of the finest songs he’s ever had a hand in creating. “Repatriated” remains a fervent, anthemic synth-pop standout; “What About Us” is as pitch-perfect as 80s-inspired-new-wave got in 2011. “Serve The People”, the album’s unofficial centerpiece, slows down the EDM tempo of its predecessors but the army keeps marching to the steady beat of a new protest song for the 21st century, one that, as Boeckner points out, continues to fuel the fight against tyranny and injustice. “Serve the People,” perhaps better than any song on Sound Kapital, highlights what is likely Boeckner’s most impassioned vocal performance ever. His lyrics spasm like itchy trigger fingers desperate to drop the hammer and spark a revolution; his voice is ready to ignite the flame.
Sound Kapital is sexy. It is seductive. It’s sincere. It’s of the time and place that inspired it and continues to resonate socially, politically, and musically ten years on. Which explains my struggle to figure out its place in time. Sound Kapital can’t be isolated to any single era, because it is that rarest of rare records: one that is truly timeless.