TORONTO – Should Dan Boeckner ever want to place himself at a particular point in his life, he needs only to pluck one of his records off the shelf.
With mid-’00s indie innovators Wolf Parade, his cage-rattling howls were “reflective of being in British Columbia in a small town,” he explains. In his next operation, the serrated synth-pop duo Handsome Furs, he and ex-wife Alexei Perry performed libidinous odes to the exotic locales blurring through their tour-van window. And his lyrically bleak contributions to his last project, the sinewy Britt Daniel collaboration Divine Fits, were admittedly coloured by the breakup of that marriage.
“Divine Fits was essentially a breakup record,” he said recently down the line from South Dakota, between gigs on tour with Future Islands. “My life took a major, 180-degree turn and it was catharsis.”
If applying that theory to his latest project, a recently released EP by a band he’s fronting called Operators, it would seem that Boeckner has navigated his way out of that tunnel and into the warm sunlight.
Sure, the five songs collected on the band’s inaugural release are nervy and tense, but they’re also bright, hooky and unabashedly danceable to an extent his more jarring Handsome Furs compositions never quite managed.
And indeed, the sunnyish new tunes reflect a fertile period in Boeckner’s life following a move to San Jose, Calif.
“In the last year or so, writing these songs has been the most productive, creative period of my life,” said the 36-year-old, who grew up in Lake Cowichan, B.C.
“I got settled with myself. I came out of that period with Divine Fits feeling good, and I had kind of a breakthrough musically with the type of material I was writing and how I was putting it together.”
Mostly gone are the guitars, as Boeckner — increasingly adept with synths, sequencers and other electronics — burrowed deeply as a listener into U.K. underground electronic, acid house and disco. So “Ancient” is built on a “mutated acid house riff, kind of melted down in the sequencer” and first single “True” struts to a vibrant groove.
The whole album is likely more gleefully enthusiastic than anything Boeckner’s done, and there’s an increased immediacy in some of the hooks. And it was intentional.
“When I’m writing, there’s this thing I try to ignore, which is the imagined audience,” he said. “For me, they’re a roomful of people, and in my mind, they know eveyrthing I’ve done and they like specific things and those things happen to line up with what I like best. It’s totally unrealistic. It’s a fantasy. And I think if you start writing for these people, second-guessing yourself, you’ve blown it right off the bat.
“So with this record I thought, if something was really poppy … it stays. If it feels good, it stays on the record.”
Not much did — Boeckner recorded 15 songs in Montreal but only five are on the EP, which clocks in just over 22 minutes.
But Boeckner doesn’t see it as a minor release or necessarily as a pre-cursor to a longer album.
“I think the album is an endangered spieces,” he said, noting that Operators would still eventually make one. “But I like the EP. … It’s short enough that people don’t lose attention. I think the era of this Neutral Milk Hotel-“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” grand artistic statement is over.
“It’s just not the way the audience is interfacing with artists anymore. … You really saw albums pushing the 70-minute mark, especially hip hop records. (And then) there’s tons of throwaway tracks, skits. Same thing happened with indie rock. Every album is a double album. Why? Why does it have to be a double album?”
Not that he’s always so carefully avoided excess.
“I’m guilty of that as anybody else,” he continued. “The second Wolf Parade record is really sprawling. It’s long, man. That’s a long-ass record. But I think short and sharp right now — I feel like that works.”
For all the ways in which “EP1” marks new territory for the guitarist, it still clearly follows in the lineage of Boeckner’s livewire style.
His contributions to all four of his best-known projects have shared a sensibility that’s distinctly his. If not, he might have struggled to stitch together a fanbase that will follow him from project to project.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky, man,” he said. “Starting over again with Handsome Furs was a pretty amazing upward trajectory.”
“I’ve been incredibly lucky,” he repeated, “that people have followed me through four different iterations of bands.”
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