It ain't the fall that gets you; its the landing.
If the apparent demise last year of Arizona-based indie-pop heroes Format gave singer Nate Ruess a case of the vertigo spins, the reception awarded this summer to Aim and Ignite, the debut CD from his new band, fun., provided ample reassurance that his feet were still more or less beneath him.
Even if pneumatics were conspiring against him.
"Were in Columbus, Ohio, with a flat tire," a slightly exasperated Ruess reported when we caught up to him last week. "Driving on a flat tire. We were so close to the venue, we figured wed just get there and reassess the situation."
After a spin through Aim and Ignite, one might wonder how the air went out. Recorded with multiinstrumentalist Andrew Dost (Anathallo) and drummer Jack Antonoff (Steel Train), who represent the other two-thirds of the oddly punctuated fun., the CD shines effervescent and maddeningly ambitious, spinning mini-operas of lamppost-hanging torch songs, grindy venue-rock workouts, low-calorie glam plumage and feather-light balladry, sumptuously woven with horn filigrees, blippy synth accenture and shockingly unashamed vocal calisthenics.
From the rainy-night-in-Paris squeezebox overture of "Be Calm," the Queen-ish vocal rave-up opening the rollicking "Benson and Hedges" (the CDs first single), the Bacharach-via-Ben Folds love letter "Light a Roman Candle With Me" and the throbbing, brassgilded anthem of "Barlights," Aim and Ignite rolls over the senses with a stunning sense of self, a rare brashness and seamless embrace of drama and un-prepossessed pop. You just dont hear music this purely unafraid every day.
"Somehow when I write, I hear full songs. And I dont play an instrument, so its a lot of me singing everything I hear in my head. And whats so great about working with Jack and Andrew is that they can interpret it to the point that it feels like their song. I just think theyre so amazing at what they do that Im able to just step away and they just add on to it.
"It totally varies from song to song. There are things I can be real specific about, and other times when its sort of a grey area in my head, like a missing piece or missing notes. ... I mean, I only have a limited amount of know-how, and we're all so very different in our styles and what we listen to. It makes it so much better than if it were just me doing it alone."
As if a gift for the eternally cloistered, though, the record comes across as a full-on studio effort. Layers and layers of instrumental accents, topped with multitracked background vocal frosting. But a band is a live entity -- how the hell do you stage this thing?
"Yeah, y'know, its weird. I feel like it's working out really well live.
"To me, Ive always perceived that as two different things. I knew a producer one time who told a band that they couldn't add something because, how were they going to play it live? And I think, well, whats the point of playing live? Or whats the point of recording a song? In the studio, you should be able to do whatever you want, to do whatever you think is right for the song. You shouldn't be thinking about the repercussions of playing it live.
"I think when you play a song live, there should be a different energy, more of a raw energy to the song. We try to cover as many bases as we can when we play live. And I think it comes across as more energetic.
"We've been touring for a couple of months, and someone stopped us the other night and said, 'You guys sound like you've been playing together a really long time,' and we went, 'No, actually we don't practice. We just play live.' We have this belief that one show equals five practices.
Ruess says that the lingering skepticism that old fans of Format may have harbored evaporated quickly.
"It's been great, actually. I've been shocked because ... you can never be too sure about those types of things. You never know if people are going to be bitter, or whatever. I'd say 80 percent of the reaction has just been awesome as far as old fans are concerned," he says. "And we're still running into people who didn't even know there was a new band. So ... that's good. I like that."
On the Bill
fun. plays Club 156 on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Doors at 7:30. Tickets are $10 to $12. CU campus, 303-492-7704.