The World/Inferno Friendship Society - The Anarchy and the Ecstasy
Record Label: Chunksaah Records
Release Date: March 15, 2011
The World/Inferno Friendship Society, however unwieldy a name it may be, is as reasonable and accurate an explanation as any for this entity. More a collective than a proper band (the WIFS has gone through over 30 members since its inception), musicians cycle in and out from other bands. The group’s lineup changes bring something new to their weird hybrid of a sound.
The WIFS is a real “society,” then. Musicians from all over the music spectrum come together to collaborate, ideally in “friendship,” on one of the increasingly eclectic works that bear the WIFS moniker. It's a label under which at least a little anarchy is inherent.
Given such circumstances, it is all the more remarkable that on their latest album, the aptly-named The Anarchy and the Ecstasy — their fifth studio album — the WIFS has crafted one of their most eclectic, yet strangely cohesive, sets of songs. The album is one that, even while willfully blending styles, structures and instrumentation (punk rock, soul, ska, jazz and cabaret), manages to feel entirely consistent.
For the most part, the album’s 10 songs are constructed around piano, which ranges in tone from light and pretty to dirge-like, built up with a ubiquitous horn section and lots of walking bass. Delectifying the sonic package are the melodic vocals provided by the Society’s sharply dressed and vocally dexterous frontman Jack Terricloth (whose name alone fits almost too well with his group’s temperament), often in harmony with female or choral accompaniment. There’s a huge amount of vocal variety on this album - enough to punch up even the most mellow track. Nothing reverts to any sort of formula. It's an ecstatic energy - an anarchic brew.
Given the prominence of these piano and vocal dynamics, it is tempting to call many of the songs on The Anarchy and the Ecstasy soulful balladeering, but it’s a far more off-kilter and freewheeling variety than the norm; think the theatricality of the Dresden Dolls with more instrumentation and vocal harmonies (the WIFS lineup has included Brian Viglione, and their previous releases draw more than a little from Weimar-era cabaret).
The album is also a triumph of atmosphere and theatrics, pushing moods and expectations, from the brooding, murky, bass-driven segments of “Thirteen Years Without Peter King” (textured with some literary marimba passages amongst that ever-present horn-section) to the almost-klezmer horn melody of “They Talk of Nora’s Badness.” The twinkling piano and vocal duet of strummy, nearly-plaintive closer “The Mighty Raritan” is about as close to an acoustic number from WIFS as we’re likely to get (and, additionally, a closing number about a great rushing river is about the closest to cliché that the Society will ever stray). The energetic archness of the lyrics, rife with obscure cultural references and vocabulary, enhances the album’s overall feeling of showmanship, remaining slightly campy. It's like a performance on the vaudeville circuit - a variety act - although none of the tracks here feel like novelties.
The punk guitar characteristic of previous releases is used sparingly on The Anarchy and the Ecstasy. The effect is greater when it does appear, adding life in short bursts to opening track “I’m Sick of People Being Sick of My Shit” and momentum to “The Politics of Passing Out.” Not that any energy is lost without it, though.
The punk rock attitude and flair, however, is all but rampant on this album; the ingeniously-titled “Canonize Philip K. Dick, OK” is a call to resist becoming a drone, and anthem “Lean Time For Heroes” culminates in a shout-a-long complete with galloping, barroom-style piano that evokes a chaotic, drunken chant; both anarchic and ecstatic, as the album title promises. And doesn’t life demand exactly that kind of restless exuberance?