Guilty pleasures: Dan Friel – Sunburn (2004)

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by Tom Johnson

I have a bass. It’s sitting right over there in the corner and it’s gotten tucked further and further away from me as time has gone on. Other things move in front of it, or find themselves stored on top of the amp, and eventually it’s just another thing taking up space in a room that desperately needs more free space.

I never seem to find any time to play the thing, but I like having it nonetheless, regardless of how much extra space it takes up. I’ll turn on the amp occasionally, put the cold body against my chest, and I’m sometimes surprised at the sounds I can make on it. I often realize, sadly, that with some actual practice, a teacher perhaps, I could probably very easily play this thing in such a way as to evoke the kind of reaction out of people that means they recognize the sound as music.

There are actually people out there who can just pick these things up and make beautiful sounds. At the moment, I’m not one of them.

I enjoy things like Dan Friel’s Sunburn EP for a slightly different reason. Like weird indie band Self with their toy-instrument powered album, Gizmodgery, Friel is not content to make beautiful noise on “regular” instruments. No, Friel instead employs the use of things most people would scoff at if they hadn’t heard what he can do with them.

Among the list of instruments, Friel notes a keyboard he’s had since he was 8 years old, with, as he says, “built-in lame ass drum machine.” Walkie talkies, remote control car joysticks, a mysterious 5-string guitar (I picture those really cheap guitars you see for sale at Toys R Us), and two guitar pedals — one overdrive and one delay/loop unit. Oh, sure, lots of people could figure out ways to make intriguing noise with things like the above, but Friel has actually formed all these oddities into very solid songs that skew most often toward Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP — that razor-sharp guitar that everyone adopted in the mid-90s.

The difference here is that Friel’s songs are pure pop — behind the distortion and odd noises you find catchy melodies, “7 Sisters” being the most ear-wormish of all with a simple chiming, distorted keyboard (I assume?) motif figuring prominently. “Death” takes that same square-filter distortion and applies it to a catchy, near punk anthem. “B2bs,” a track recorded live, plays like Aphex Twin. With a spastic beat propelling this short piece along and what sounds like distorted Moog as the melody, it’s hard not to make a comparison.

Through all 7 tracks, the main thing that shines through is Friel’s strong sense of melody — the sounds used might be harsh, but what he creates with them winds up being surprising and addictive.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at
Tom Johnson
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