Tuesday, October 12, 2010


of the five or so albums released by france and the freemansons in the past two years, the second installment, Los Ojos Rojos (2009) may be the bands definitive musical statement. With this release, frontman Francisco Lopes aka "France" has taken the lo-fi approach to recording to a new level particularly in regards to its use as a stylized medium and attention to detail. While the first Freemanson record, Great Radiator In The Sky (2009), showcased a raw songwriting talent and apparent love of the folk tradition, Los Ojos Rojos marks a major turning point in the bands overall sound. Right off the bat Los Ojos Rojos, which of course means "The Red Eyes", sounds shrouded in mysticism. "She came out of the water Born of the ocean, on a wave of love." The opening track "Lady Of Cyprus" tells the story of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love among other things using a strangely tuned, or detuned, classical guitar along with an assortment of harmonicas in various keys and a wooden flute. France opts to immediately challenge the listener accenting the familiar with notes of dissonance and atonality. A combination of warm vocal harmony, ryhthmic harmonica and dissonant woodwind make for an opening track that breathes like the ocean and strays from the safety of purely consonant melodies to create a sound that is both richer and more thought provoking.

The second track, appropriately titled "Remove Your Arms" features a semi dissonant folk guitar paired with nonsense vocals from which the only intelligible words are "hey ya, los ojos rojos". When this song breaks into a sort of Native American chant with rattles and skin drums, the dissonance to a large degree becomes lost and is replaced by an uplifting catchy-ness, a sort of beautiful insanity that pretty well defines the record. "Icarus Landing" is where it all takes flight, prescient drums take this one in rock n roll fashion steadily rising along with the vocals and a "talking" guitar. Although everything is overshadowed by the kick-ass drums, which are straight-out rocking throughout, i really like certain details like the mix, panning and the voice and lyrics which are always compelling.

France & the Free Mansons - Icarus Landing

"This Land is your Land, This Land is my Land", is a full length cover of Woody Guthries 1940's version, played without any sonic manipulations in the vein of the folk tradition. This allows for the listener to fully appreciate Guthrie's original lyrics which are still of great social importance. "First Amendment" and "horns like confused animals", see a return to the variety of cosmic eminations and weird-folk punk (trademark i think), and i cannot give enough credit to how well done the lo-fi techniques are done, from the natural room reverb to the analog guitar effects, emphasis on percussion over full set drums, and keyboard and brass instruments. Side A ends with "Sunny Day" which basks in the summer heat, lazy sunbaked and lovely, it ends on a note that perfectly combines a voice and trumpet to produce a sound that I cannot describe as discernabley either instrument.

Side A reflects a wide variety of topics and timbre, different cultures, languages and world literature and can serve as a how-to-guide to lo-fi recording. Side B branches into geography, the evening news, surrealism and impressionism and gypsy philosophy. "we lived here and we loved it, ya we did, and you can too" are the lyrics to the opening track of side B "Nova Scotia". to understand the meaning of this song it is necessary to know the title. "Four Dead In Alabama" tells the story of a mysterious quadruple murder through the sanitized indifference of broadcast journalism, perhaps the most accessible "hit" song on the album. "The Man With The Yellow Hat" is another track where understanding the title is key, taking the mystery in a bizarre direction. Minimal drums are spot on and the weird creativity of the Freemansons is seemingly at its peak. No song on the album is as strikingly beautiful as the impressionist "Dragonfly" which paints with broad water color strokes. "Why don't you go run in a field? leave me alone if thats the way that you feel". The lyrics are brilliant as delivered, the vocals never strike a wrong note and are sung with longing and nostalgia. France's cover of Paul Simon's "A Most Peculiar Man" does the song justice and intesifies the songs darker moments. "Arizona Standoff" continues in the vein of "Four dead in Alabama". Things get weird again with "in the wood" and "dia de los almas" which is a very welcome return. The tape ends with the Transcendental "Walden", which i will let the lyrics speak for the themselves:

France & the Free Mansons - Walden

"objects seem more interesting, when they are placed outside, so i set all my furniture on the grass and made a pile like a gypsies path, i scrub my floors with all my things outdoors dry all my sins in the wind, when i clean my house i clean it good, i dont forget a thing, when i clean my house i clean it good cuz i shine all my things with the sun, i shine all my things with the sun."

you will have to forgive me for having almost nothing bad to say about this album, but even the "bad" parts are brilliantly well-done. i could criticize the frequent use of dissonance and defamiliarization, but i won't because i feel that those are both part of the genius and appeal of this kind of record: a lo-fi freak folk, skunk rock cassette tape. Not the most spectacular trumpet playing, but still serves to add a splash of color onto a palette that is already brimming. Some people will surely disagree with the notion of a "Free Charles Manson" which is where Freemanson is derived from, but Manson himself is free regardless, despite being held in solitary he claims to have freed himself from the shackles of his mind to which many people unfortunately enslaved by. If you can't handle the notion that a psychopath like Manson also contains some real wisdom (the old fine line between genius and insanity) than you're not cool enough to listen to this album. This record is fantastic. I give it an A+, I think it is one of the strongest most cohesive releases in the Radiator Catalog. 9.8

reviewed by Mohamed El-Darwish, RADIATOR COLLECTIVE 2010

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