A Thing Called Divine Fits is the first collaborative album between Britt Daniel of Spoon and Dan Boeckner, formerly of the Handsome Furs, but the record could also be seen as a pilot for a buddy cop show. Daniel is known for his coiled intensity, built over the 15 years he’s been the frontman for a band that specializes in a consistent type of sleek and deceptively simple guitar-driven indie rock that’s not exactly fashionable but rarely out of style. Boeckner is known for his emotionality, and he spent most of the ’00s trying to fit his rugged, muscular style into various guises including the often anthemic Wolf Parade and the often confrontational husband-wife duo Handsome Furs. While Daniel looks friendly in photos, like a math teacher, Boeckner looks like the rebellious student who’d skip math class to go smoke cigarettes. The contrast between these two befits the Lethal Weapon tagline: “If these two can learn to stand each other… The bad guys don’t stand a chance.”
Lucky for listeners, it seems that these two can do much more than stand each other; they feed off of each other. Working with drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks, Boeckner and Daniel don’t do too much to mess with the individual template each has established as an artist. Daniel still sounds cool and removed; Boeckner still sounds nervous and passionate. But, just like in any decent buddy cop movie, the two ultimately learn from each other. For one thing, Boeckner’s voice is allowed to take center stage. Freed from the roaring prog-rock ambitions of his Wolf Parade cohort Spencer Krug, he sounds reinvigorated on the opening synth-pop track “My Love Is Real.” “I will not sleep until I’ve tried every way to bring your little black heart back,” he sings over a prickly beat, and he sounds more determined than ever.
While Boeckner gets to show off his songwriting gifts (“Civilian Stripes” is an acoustic-driven standout), Daniel gets to do a little swaggering around, flirting with ideas that might be considered too straightforward or silly for Spoon. Where the last two Spoon albums featured bits of soul-indebted retro-pop and the occasional garage-rock slow-burn, they were often so stripped down they sounded like they were constructed in a lab where Daniel and the his team of pop scientists peeled the skin off of great rock songs to see how few bones they needed to walk.
With Divine Fits Daniel takes a less clinical approach. On “Flaggin A Ride” he conjures some of that Girls Can Tell and Kill The Moonlight simplicity, but here the guitars take on a quivering, hallucinatory edge as the song builds to a close. Other songs find Daniel experimenting with joyous synth-pop (“Would That Not Be Nice”), mannered krautrock (“The Salton Sea”) and even a cover (Boys Next Door’s “Shivers”). He gets to show off his range and try new things. That’s what side projects are for.
If the album has a significant weakness, it’s that despite the impressive attention to detail and the impeccable production work, the record can’t quite shake that side-project feeling. Perhaps it’s because Spoon and Wolf Parade albums often feel like mini-events, but the Divine Fits can’t help but feel like a spinoff or like a special crossover episode—think when the New York detectives from Law And Order would team up with the Baltimore crew of Homicide: Life On The Street. It’s fun to see characters you know and love interact with each other in new situations, but they always seem a little stilted, a little out of place. I bet the sequel will be better.