DISCLAIMER: This is a new project from the former lead singer of The Format, a band who put out one of this reviewer's all-time favorite records of all time. This is personal.
"I don't care to be forgiven/I only want to be forgotten"
The former Format front man first made this deceptive sentiment known last year when the "Benson Hedges" demo was shuffling around the internet, and rumors surfaced of an album from fun., an indie super group composed of Ruess, Jack Antonoff of Steel Train, and ex-Anatholla member Andrew Dost. Holding Aim And Ignite was like opening to the first page of the next book of a series I've been very personally invested in, a series beginning with the Format's swan-song album Dog Problems. The record from fun. may be a collaboration, but Ruess is the star here; the songs are distinctly built on Ruess-ian melodic theory: stunning arrangements, catchy tunes with clear contour and climactic bridges, and a wide array of pop vocabulary. The demo Benson Hedges" was just the beginning of what I'm convinced Ruess felt was his renaissance.
For anyone who never heard it, Dog Problems was preoccupied with Ruess's recovery from the misery of a messy breakup (which left him with a collection of dogs to care for) and many of the songs sifted through his hope and his grief. Now, after breaking up with his old band as well and striking out on his own (with a few friends), fun. continues this tradition of inwardly seeking material.
"Be Calm," track one, is a great transitional track from his previous work. The song rolls all of Ruess into one compact, neat, microcosm of his work. Rhythmic fluctuation, lyrical stress variety, and a grandiose chorus bursting into a head-bobbing bridge. Ruess stretches his range to the limit barely three minutes into track one, setting a pretty feverish pace which he doesn't totally keep up with (but sprinting out the gate is the theme of this album). To follow a forray into the opening climactic pop: Arranger Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Dost outdo themselves with the arrangements, Jack Antonoff demonstrates a command of guitar, and Ruess sings about some sorts of happiness which leaves the rest of us pretty damn happy to hear.
After "Be Calm," a refurbished "Benson Hedges" now resembles Queen-like production values. The kinetic energy is off the charts. "All The Pretty Girls" is a subtle step back (but with even more harmony and catchy phrasing). And from here, ears are generally pleased with many expected sounds: drum stick taps, more horns, and the familiar melodic preoccupations. Here I firmly believe, from track four onward, the listener should already love the tightly produced, well-written pop and accept the rest of the album as naturally successive and cohesive. But, I also think for skeptics, the giddy tunes towards the end, especially sappy love-tune "The Gambler" will gather eye rolls from lo-fi loving trend-setters. Which is totally fine, if you won't listen to anything that two out of five suburban kids could identify correctly, given multiple choices.
fun. writes pop that collects some of our fondest decades of songwriting. There is no chanting, creating off tempo weirdness, or using a computer to make indiscernible fuzz with a back-beat. There is simply a ton of heart. It is often said in art, the best product comes from the artist's own experience interacting with their surroundings. Here we have a man, collecting his friends, and expressing his life in an lush opera of sing-alongs. The fact that he can do it twice, with a totally different set of people, speaks to his investment in creating and sharing. And if you don't flinch even a little at the "panhandler or his melodies," then you'd better lay off the Animal Collective for a minute.