Leader and the Falcon – Head of Femur

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When we last heard from Chicago’s Head of Femur, they were creating glorious orchestral pop frenzies on 2005’s Hysterical Stars. Well over two years later, the band has resurfaced with a new six-track EP that is refined in terms of both sound and lineup; their previous incarnations as an eight-piece have here been whittled down to four key members, with keyboards, horns, and flute pieces woven tastefully between.

Where Head of Femur has always excelled in the realm of chaotic musical excess, it’s apparent from the opening self-titled track that the past two years have tamed them as a band. Leader and the Falcon shines as a melding of parts: a Beach-Boys infused series of “Ahh-ahhs,” punchy guitar lines, and a plucky ending remniscent of early Built To Spill. Rather than being disjointed, however, the approach flows effortlessly.

While this EP lacks the energetic-to-a-fault quality of Hysterical Stars, each track remains a distinct shift in mood. On “100 Years”, vocalist Matt Focht delivers a nostalgic, 70’s tinged tale against a keyboard-heavy background. By contrast, “Green Grass Grows All Around” is perhaps the band’s slowest, most thoughtful work yet. “Where’s the Fire?”, a b-side from Hysterical Stars, marks the high point of this EP, delivering sassy trumpet, sax, and trombone alongside crescendoed vocals and curious lyrical pairings (the rhyming of “negress” with “egress” for example).

All in all, the band’s more “grown-up” approach works well; Leader and the Falcon marks a welcome return to the recording arena, and proves a compelling teaser for the band’s forthcoming full-length.