As quirky pop goes, it doesn't get much quirkier than this.
And as political pop goes, well, this is pretty much the peak.
Put the two together and you might not get an out-and-out contradiction, but it's still sure to get some head scratching.
Yet putting those two concepts together is exactly what the Canadian quartet Moxy Fruvous-coming to the Theater of Living Arts this Thursday, November 13-does. Throw in some drum loops. A wide variety of instruments, the occasional ballad and some of the best vocal harmonizing this side of the Beach Boys, and you end up with something pretty unique.
According to guitarist-vocalist Mike Ford, this wildly shifting variety has been known to create confusion among those outside the Fruvous fan core (known as "Fruheads"). "They want to classify us and go, 'Okay, wait a minute, what are they? Are they theatrical yuksters? Are they sort of (like) Billy Bragg-singing about these issues pertinently? Are they just a band that likes singing four-part harmony? Are they these musicians who like rockin' out a bit?'
"So we found the only way to make it work?is to look at ourselves as a circus, as a cabaret, as a variety show where you get everything." With their third album (their second here in the States), You Will Go To The Moon (Bottom Line), the band pushes what Ford refers to as their "general constant desire to try different things" to new levels. The aforementioned burgeoning interest in drum loops and samples proliferates on the first single, "Michigan Militia," as well as a lovably earnest cover of the Bee Gees' "I've Gotta Get a Message to You."
Fruvous also displays an impressive facility for Beatlesque pop on the likes of "Lazlo's Career" and "Your New Boyfriend." From there, the album branches out with the fiercely swinging "Boo Time" (inspired musically, says Ford, by Bertholt Brecht and Tom Waits" and the fragile, dark ballads "Lee" and "Love Set Fire."
And there's also room for the goofy a capella pieces that made Fruvous' name on the streets of Canada such as "Kick in the Ass" and the title track. Those four-part harmonies are dominant features of almost all Fruvous songs, often adding another level of pop hook to already addictive melodies. "When we decided to start Fruvous," Ford says, "it was purely to raise a bit of coin so we can take our girlfriends to the movies." The four members-all of whom had experience in other bands-decided to take an a capella approach because "we were keen to the challenge of learning how to chord sort of on the fly."
The other oft-cited side of the Fruvous equation is their political side. The band obviously displays a decidedly left-wing bent.
Fortunately, though, they manage to avoid sounding jingoistic, resorting to either pointed character sketches ("Michigan Militia") or witty bluntness ("Your New Boyfriend," which describes the title character as "a bit of a right wing sh*t").
According to Ford, the band tries to strike a balance between satire and preaching, citing as influences in this respect, songwriters like Billy Bragg, Loudon Wainwright III and Randy Newman, but also Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Treudeau and recent Noble Prize for Literature winner Daric Fo ("The Marx Brothers meet Noam Chomsky").
Ford says that the band-who played the prestigious Philadelphia Folk Festival last summer-is eagerly anticipating the TLA show, mentioning especially the devout following the band has here in Philly. "It's just about our best group of fans." With any luck, Thursday's TLA date will help expand Fruvous' "good cheer and message."