Is there a difference between terror and doom? They sound alike and they evoke similar images in the mind: attics covered in spider webs, graveyards flooded with fog, that soft click of your computer crashing. Stephen King says that terror is “the finest emotion,” but there’s an argument to be made for doom. Terror is fleeting and quick; doom is inevitable and slow. Bones, the debut album by Berlin-based band Fenster, is an occasionally charming folk-pop record that consistently chooses doom over terror. It’s a whimsical and sun-kissed doom, like morning dew settling on a jester’s fresh corpse.
With an odd band name that sounds a bit too much like the name of that creepy bald dude from The Addams Family and an album title that makes me think of that crime procedural staring Angel and Zooey Deschanel’s sister, Fenster’s Bones can feel both too familiar and too calculated. The band grew out of collaboration between New York native JJ Weihl and Berliner Jonathan Jarzyna, but the record doesn’t necessarily bear the mark of a particular city, nor does it mimic the busy shuffle of urban life. Weihl provides the most striking vocal contributions on the record, her lithe vocal tics giving the album a playful, lullaby-like touch. In their press material the band claims to make “de-constructed pop songs,” but don’t hold that against them.
With their reliance on sparse, minimal instrumentation and coy male/female call and response vocals, Fenster will no doubt be compared to goth-pop sensualists the xx, and, while there are similarities, they’re mostly cosmetic. Sure, both bands have an affinity for tension-filled pauses and monochromatic imagery, but that’s about it. As Jamie xx’s collaborations with Gil Scott-Heron and Drake have proved, the xx are primarily interested in the cavernous textures of deep house and the intricacies of R&B song craft. Fenster tends to draw from garage rock and folk traditions, though they do a good job of covering their tracks and wrapping their influences in crackling analog vapors.
The album really hits its spooky stride towards its second half with the haunting, goosebumping ballad “Gravediggers.” “I can see your T.V. set playing on the future/It’s dripping down,” sings Weihl in her soft, measured lilt. After a brief and curious noise interval, a calm male voice calls out, “I wish that I could taste your blood/ I wish I could drink it all.” The mundane and casual nature of the request is what makes it so creepy; he’s not demanding or intimidating; he’s simply checking to see if she’s into that.
“Spring Break” is a twitchy, campfire version of Galaxie 500 complete with lost love and zombies. “2.7 XO 17” is all about cyborgs. At times the crystalline guitar work approaches the sublime slowcore crunch of Low, but their tendency towards deconstruction means that songs often tumble and shift on a whim. The inventive and adventurous percussion can startle at times, but the album never gets loud. Space is very important to the band, and they’re never afraid to take a breath, or reset. For example, “The Hunter” begins with a haunting banjo riff, but goes through three or four tonal and rhythmic shifts before coming to a close.
Bones is often at its best when it keeps things simple. “Killer Surf Walker” features a twinkling, Link Wray guitar shuffle and poignant lyrics about being a mermaid, but it quickly goes pitch-black when Weihl sings, “Once I killed a fisherman sleeping under the stars.” Like if The Litte Mermaid suddenly morphed into a slasher flick, the song shows off the band’s knack for turning charming bits of folklore into dreamy dystopian hellscapes. Doom finds a way.