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FCS North
(Lucky Horse Industries)

FCS North (pronounced "focus north") is a quartet out of the upper northwest that plays a hybrid of indie rock and jazz that would probably easily be described as "math jazz." While that might sound like a weak attempt at coming up with a new categorization to simply toss the band into, I have a reason to my madness. With abrupt changes in time signature and tempo being one of the main dynamics that the group pushes, they definitely have a math rock style foundation, yet their bass and keyboard heavy mix is more jazz than rock. Imagine Tortoise if they went all herky-jerky, or Jaga Jazzist with more of an indie-band feel, and you're getting somewhere close.

As mentioned before, one of the most interesting things about the group is their sudden dynamic changes and abilities to head off in a completely different direction than originally planned. On the 7 tracks and 43 minutes of the release, the focus is on the groove, and although that will please those looking for a highly-technical and proficient sound, the melodies are definitely sacrificed in favor of working that funky schwing. After a fairly throwaway opening track, the disc busts into "Prince," a track that comes out of the gate nice-n-steady before twitching and busting loose with a seriously smoking rhythm section. It's all about the quick-fingered bass and rattling percussion, although there's a bit of a keyboard melody to tie it all together before it again swirls upward and lands in freewheeling land.

"||:||" again features an amazingly tight rhythm section and some filigrees of chimes floating over the funky breakdowns. About halfway through it shards off into almost an R&B tip, with light vocals and a bit of juice on the bass before launching into a section that recalls lo-fi house. "Things Will Change" brings more vocals into the equation, and it works pretty well, grooving along with an airy lounge feel before cracking off into a bridge of tinny hip-hop and swerving back to the original foundation. Despite it's less frenetic feel, the slow-burning "Grey Gardens" is easily one of the best tracks on the disc, mixing a droning, reverbed keyboard melody with gradually-building drums, bass, and effects.

Despite all the great rhythms and even a couple melody hooks, the album comes off as a bit cold much of the time. Part of it can probably be attributed to the analog keyboard sound and heavy use of drum machines through the mid-section of the release (when the earlier tracks with real drums give tracks more dynamics and energy). Escaping the live-band sound even further, "Seasonal" comes off sounding like an early 90's electronic track that could have been burped out by Speedy J or B12 (which isn't really a bad thing, but the track does sound much more dated than much of the disc). I imagine that part of the fun of FCS North is actually seeing them live, when a bit more of a human element can creep into their sound and the rapid changes in tempo can be appreciated even more. The actual release is a bit too smooth and polished, sounding a touch too sterile to convey the swagger. As it is, though, Vocabulary has some really nice moments, but doesn't engage as much as it could.

Rating: 6.25