Brendan Kelly (the Lawrence Arms, the Wandering Birds) Talks Fartbarf’s Dirty Power

I’d like to set the record straight right off the bat: I chose to review the Fartbarf album solely because of their name. “Fartbarf” indicated...

I’d like to set the record straight right off the bat: I chose to review the Fartbarf album solely because of their name. “Fartbarf” indicated, to me, that they were gonna be some shitty, juvenile punk band, and I’ve got a soft spot for that kind of crap. I knew absolutely nothing about this group beyond that they were called Fartbarf, and before spinning Dirty Power, I did zero Fartbarf research to prepare. Then I put the record on.

And ho-LEE Shit. Fartbarf is fucking awesome.

OK, firstly, from what I can gather, Fartbarf are some subsect of juvenile punks, but beyond that, they’re maybe from space. They’re definitely comprised of robots, and if these robots are of earthly origin, they were probably built lovingly by hand in the ’80s, with the intention of interacting with various pieces of analog equipment. This is evident in the rich synth sounds and the live drums that appear on Dirty Power, but no pure circuit board-brain network could create this much chaos. There’s a dark, dong-swinging id in these tunes. It’s like if an ape made a robot, or humans engineered a gang of musical tin orangutans and then got them high. This shit is balls-to-the-wall synthetic and dick-in-the-dirt primal at the same time without ever being too off-puttingly strange or boringly familiar. Apparently, team Fartbarf even goes so far as to wear monkey masks when they perform. I’d say it’s classic monkey vs. robot, future-primitive-type shit, except that this record isn’t classic anythingDirty Power may very well end up being somebody’s classic one day, but right now, it’s a little too menacing, and too new (and old?) and recklessly beautiful to be called anything but weeeeeeird.

Sure, I think it would be easy to say something like “Fartbarf is like if the Faint weren’t trying to halfstep and appeal to human audiences” or “Fartbarf is like if Chromeo were droids” but truly, the only thing Fartbarf has in common with those bands is that they all use classic synth sounds. Fartbarf is more like if you took a team of space robots and told them all about Chromeo or the Faint and had them go back to their home planet and try to emulate the sound without ever having heard it. Fartbarf are to the last 15 years of hipster synth music (or whatever the fuck it’s actually called) what a remote village in India’s idea of a Nachos Bell Grande may be. There’s pretty much no way to even imagine what they’d come up with until you dig in. Sink your teeth into Fartbarf (heh), and uh, wow: This ain’t your dad’s Nachos Bell Grande, son. You’ll find a distinctly alien, previously unknown take on something you thought was pretty much all figured out and pedestrian.

Now, I should clarify that I’m no expert on this genre of music, nor am I a critic of any kind, so I may be way off in my judgement of Fartbarf’s unique place in this canon, but I can say that these songs are menacing, abrasive, unhinged, beautiful, gleefully stupid and meticulously constructed, stacked, layered and just generally great. It’s the perfect soundtrack for staring out at the passing nebulae from the deck of your trans-galactic flight. The breakdown in “Panopticon,” for example, comes out of this really dark, droning place and then just blooms into this gorgeous, Solla Sollew-esque world of lush, oversized pillow dreams, and just when you get comfortable, it starts bubbling over with this subtly encroaching, sinister pulse. Next thing you know, boom! You’re back in the shit, looking up at the gears-and-steel bullies-on-wheels that you’ve been running from. It’s one of my favorite moments on a record full of great ones. I was not expecting this kind of depth from a group of people called Fartbarf.

The first time I listened to Dirty Power, I took a few notes just to jot down my initial impressions, and as much as I’ve tried to convey my feelings on the high-static entropic virtuosity of the album as a whole above, I think these notes may paint a better picture, so I’m gonna leave you with un-doctored snippets from these first-contact thoughts, starting with track two, since the notes on track one, the excellent “Homeless in Heathrow,” were just me trying to get my bearings and figure out what the fuck was going on. Anyway:

“Sounds like two Nintendos fucking during the interlude. Uuuuuh! Like, an explicit sex scene from the old game Rygar. Imagine a Sega Genesis sidling up to you in a martini lounge and seducing you with old-world charm.”

“Your Sky Is Falling”
“Kind of like being part of a cult where Chromeo is at least minorly important, though vastly more important is knowing how to fuck a robot. Cacophonous, with real analog-sounding drums spruced in, as well as some tools and real robot sex. This isn’t simulated. Def kind of a march anthem for some kind of totalitarian regime, but this particular totalitarian regime is obviously up to some shenanigans.”

“Mission at Hand”
“Like cyborg cheerleaders trying to get the fans in the stands to take off their helmets. A few laser beams were definitely fired haphazardly in the making of this… flat moments help build more dynamic landscapes. Kind of like Tron geo-mapping Monument Park, Utah.”

“Play the Game” 
“A kind of Yes-y laser war on a vast galactic plane… HOLY SHIT, I love this! There’s a car alarm in this song. It’s not actually a car alarm.”

“All Systems Go!“
“Ostensibly, it’s about breakdancing, but I think it’s actually about fucking. There’s also a sound in this one that sounds like a furnace’s anus prolapsing and another that sounds like the mating call of the son of a vacuum cleaner and a bullfrog.”

“Service Merchandiser”
“Picture a bunch of can openers marching out of the sea and disco dancing on the ruins of earth, then halfway through pulling out cans of whatever appliances get drunk on and chugging it.”

“Hero of Time” 
“In an alternate universe comprised exclusively of perverts, this is what plays in the elevators. I can see myself bareback riding a satellite through the void and doing tai chi to this one. Kind of Top Gun-esque, if Top Gun were set in gay space. It’s instrumental.”

“Warp Whistle” 
“This one is very menacing and catchy. The lyrics are indecipherable, which is par for the course for galactic chimps, I guess.”

“Electric Groove” 
“Menacing. If an escalator could rap, and an escalator could be mean, and kill birds on purpose.”

Anyway, you get the idea. Holy shit. What a ride. Thank you Fartbarf, for inspiring me to write the sentence “Thank you Fartbarf,” among other things.

Brendan Kelly plays in the Lawrence Armsthe Falcon and the Wandering Birds. He has trouble constructing short bios, but thankfully he has a Wikipedia page full of mundane details in the unlikely event that someone would be interested in learning more about him. Also, he’s on Twitter and writes a semi-readable blog at