fun.: Aim And Ignite

The world of power-pop suffered a savage blow when The Format announced an indefinite hiatus (music industry lingo for “break-up”) in February of 2008. The band’s penchant for sticky pop hooks was balanced with a remarkably intelligent sense of songcraft—a rare trait in a scene that is usually content with beating its audience over the head with big dumb melodies.

Good news for fans of sticky pop hooks: One half of The Format’s songwriting team—Nate Ruess, the occasionally helium-tinged vocalist—has just released an ambitious indie-pop album that carries the work he started with The Format to grandiose and stratospheric heights. Bad news for music journalists everywhere: Ruess’ new band, which also features Jack Antonoff (Steel Train) and Andrew Dost (ex-Anathallo), is called fun. Lowercase “F,” and a period: Possibly the most awkward band name I’ve ever seen in print.

Aim And Ignite finds Ruess and co. channeling their inner Queen, crafting an album full of inventively orchestrated mini-suites and sophisticated harmonies. “Be Calm” opens the album with a string section, accordion, and a subtle melody that eventually throws its cards on the table and indulges its desire to rhapsodize bohemian. Ruess’ multi-tracked vocals pay homage to Freddie Mercury right down to his diction, and the band and orchestra match his fervor with harmonized lead guitars, brass section eruptions, jumpy piano, and even an honest-to-God calliope at one point. And while we’re all glad that punk did away with the excess of the 1970s, Aim And Ignite refreshingly proves that pop-rock doesn’t have to be three chords and a big dumb melody. In doing so, it presents itself as one of the most intelligent pop albums of the year.

In A Word: Scaramouche