NO FUN DEMO
Miami-based sound wizard Dino Felipe has made a lot of records-- more than 30 in the past decade, if you count his various groups and compilation appearances-- but very few of them sound alike. His primary M.O. is electronic noise, but he's also good at droning ambience, fractured punk, sample-heavy frivolity, and weirdo bedroom pop. He's made a subterranean career out of dodging definition, so it figures that his first record for No Fun, the noise label run by his friend and colleague Carlos Giffoni, would be his poppiest to date. It may not also be his best, but it's up there.
Of course, pop is a relative term when it comes to Felipe. There are melodic, structured songs here, but his approach is still hazy, off-kilter, and weird. Most of his tunes sport skewed hooks and off-key riffs which get dipped in fuzz and echo, half-hidden by distortion, pitch shifting, and ghostly distance. This puts No Fun Demo in the same ballpark as the AM-radio lo-fi of Ariel Pink, but Felipe's songs are more sturdy, and the album is more consistent than any Pink record save the underrated House Arrest. In that sense, its title is deceptive: These tracks may initially sound like four-track demos made alone in a basement, but they hold up as well-crafted songs, the kind that couldn't have been whipped up in a single lonesome evening.
Take "Found 2 Photos"-- its mid-tempo drum machine, loping bass line, and two-chord organ seem to follow one simple idea. But a closer listen reveals clever guitar flourishes, random percussion, and a vocal line that sounds like Silver Jews filled with helium. The same goes for "Working on Not", a looping electronic piece that's like a pop take on Can or Excepter, and "Rabbit Head", whose sneaky melody at first seems lethargic, but eventually becomes energetic and almost tight.
A few of Felipe's songs are just flat-out, unfiltered pop. "I Wanna Feel Better" bends and twists around a syrupy hook, while the bouncing "Chandeliers" (a Haunted House cover) features scorched chanting over a driving piano line. Felipe only falters when he gets too retro-clever-- check the blatant 80s-synth exercise "What's Wrong With Me?"-- or repeats himself (a few of the slower pieces feel identical). But at least No Fun Demo is stylistically consistent. Felipe rarely deviates from his own oddball logic, and if his worst sin is not enough variety to give his music a wider appeal, well, maybe that's just another feather in his bulging cap.