The Felice Brothers
Celebration, Florida, 180G Black Vinyl LP
In November 2010, the body of a man was found in his home in Celebration, Florida. He had been strangled and beaten with an axe. It was the town's first homicide in its 15-year history, and while the culprit was soon apprehended, the incident was a shock to many of the municipality's 10,000 residents. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen in Celebration, which had been founded by Disney specifically to be a crime-free, family-friendly throwback to a way of life that's more imagined than actual. It's unclear whether the Felice Brothers knew of that that crime when they named their fourth album Celebration, Florida, but certainly that dark spot on the town's sunny exterior adds a bit of sensationalism to these songs, which examine the dark side of American spectacle.
As with the album title, this Woodstock band chooses its proper nouns carefully, painting a glaring portrait of America full of Wonder Bread warehouses, used '96 Honda Civics, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and televisions turned to Fox 5 News. It's ersatz culture defined by its detritus, and it recalls the odd cityscapes of East River Pipe. The Felice Brothers lack F.M. Cornog's sense of wonder, which depicts even the most banal details as the stuff of science fiction. Nothing on Celebration is quite so transformative, but there are imaginative stories in these songs, populated with real characters checking the sticker price, lying to the desk clerk, and arguing with the TV.
The Felice Brothers try to reflect this American jumble in their music, which draws from 60s folk rock (their Woodstock is more The Basement Tapes than Woodstock) and general roots traditions without being specific enough to belong to any particular short-lived revival. They're tinkerers, reimagining Americana as something in flux, steeped in history yet absorbing new ideas. "Ponzi" bursts into a chaotic rumble of programmed beats and industrial stutter, linking Wall Street to the introverted grotesquerie of Nine Inch Nails rather than the self-conscious luster of hip-hop. Conceptually, it's an intriguing idea. Musically, it ruins one of the better tunes on Celebration, a tense, jerky groove that's more intriguing when it threatens to explode than when it actually explodes.