Post-rock is one of the latest genres to be routinely proclaimed “dead” by numerous people. Indeed, whilst many bands that fall under the third wave of the post-rock umbrella have recently been putting out rudimentary records that fulfil every post-rock revival cliché without bringing much else to the table, I’ve never seen it fair to declare any genre dead, but that’s primarily to do with the ambiguity of what a genre being “dead” means. Plus, there still exists great activity in the post-rock genre, with Swans having released three of their best and most significant albums in the last few years. However, I nonetheless understand the emotions that would lead someone to declare post-rock dead, given the lowering of standards that seems to have seen certain bands drastically saturate their sounds. Fufanu are a relatively new band in the post-rock game, with this sophomore record of theirs, Sports, following their debut released in November of 2015, Few More Days to Go. On their first effort, the Icelandic outfit, who initially operated as a techno duo under the name Captain Fufanu, retained many electronic elements in their approach to post-rock, using synth pads and bass in conjunction with conventional guitars and drums. The results gave the band somewhat of a unique sound, although they still deviated little from the post-rock paradigm. This new release, featuring production credits from Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame, sees the band move into a more conventional and less experimental sound, sometimes more reminiscent of alternative rock with some electronic elements than post-rock. Moreover, the post-rock passages are so by the book that they fail to leave any significant impression on the listener, particularly when factoring in some of the sloppy songwriting and dull vocal performances from lead singer Kaktus Einarsson. The result is an awkward follow-up to Fufanu’s debut, with few memorable moments and a great deal of humdrum performances and compositions.
The opening title track is a bit of a mixed start to the record. The steady groove featuring typical Fufanu instrumentation of a synth bass and some softer leads, paired with a straight and simple drum beat and a minimalist guitar pattern is relatively inoffensive, but there seems to be a lack of notable substance to the instrumental. Post-rock is a genre known for progressing subtly and shining in its finer details, but that isn’t the case on this track, as it just feels more underwritten than minimalist. Einarsson’s vocal delivery is rather drab and this is unfortunately a recurring theme throughout the record’s runtime, which is made only more evident by the repetitive and sometimes monotonous melodies that he provides for the vocal part. The opener progresses much as one would expect across its bloated six-minute runtime and has seemingly left little to no impression on the listener during that time. Disappointingly, the other cuts on this record suffer from many of the same problems as this first track.
The second song on this album, Gone For More, highlights another issue that is common to this record, which is the extent to which the electronics and natural instrumentation work well together, or not as the case may be. The synths felt perfectly in place on the first track, but here, following the synth-driven opening, the guitar and vocals that are introduced seem to clash with the electronic elements, which is only emphasised by the questionable tunefulness of Einarsson’s vocal delivery. The synths and organic instrumentation seem to be more in conflict with one another than complementing one another, to the point that it feels like this track should have been either entirely electronic or entirely using standard rock instrumentation. This is only emphasised by the instrumental bridge, which mainly features flourishes from the synths accompanied by just a straight drumbeat and a one-note guitar line, sounding a lot more natural than the front-end of the cut. This track is slightly redeemed by the backend of the cut, which features some more interesting synth parts and less of Einarsson’s singing, coming through with some pretty good instrumental sections.
There are no tracks on Sports that stand out to me as being largely positive, as the better cuts on here are the ones that are simply innocuous overall and don’t display the clashing electronic and organic worlds that turn up on other tracks. Cuts like Tokyo do display some relatively decent ideas however, like the nice clean guitar embellishments under Einarsson’s vocals during the verses. Plus, the various synth lines that are added as the song progresses pay off more successfully than they do on any other track on Sports, although they are still rather predictable and feel somewhat like padding to drag out the runtime of what would otherwise be a very simple track. Ultimately, the tracks on here that stand out to me as showing at least some good ideas seem to just fulfil the basic requirements of a Fufanu song without adding much else more to the mix.
Sports, overall, isn’t a dreadful album, but it suffers from a lot of problems that a band like Fufanu are at risk of running. The simple compositions come close to sounding underwritten a lot of the time and progress in a way that doesn’t play to the trio’s strengths. The electronic elements, whilst being in the spotlight for much of this album, don’t always feel incorporated as well as they could be, sometimes even clashing with the guitar and vox. Of course, this issue may have been less prominent if it weren’t for Einarsson’s subpar vocal melodies and performances, but this should be taken with a pinch of salt as much of post-rock revivalism is centred more around instrumentation than vocals. In the end, Sports is an awkward release for Fufanu that is only just satisfactory at the best of times, but often falls short of even some of the most basic expectations of the group. This album doesn’t allude to anything better for the band more than it highlights a need for a great revision to their sound in order to come through with a better project.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4.5/10