Clever, clever

A tantalizing debut EP from Are You a Fox?
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 17, 2007

Are You a Fox?

You’ve got to have at least some affection for a young local band smart enough to reference Archilochus. Or maybe they’re only familiar with the famous Isaiah Berlin essay that explores the Greek poet’s postulation that, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one thing.” Headed by frontman and songwriter Ben Lyons, the Southern Maine alt-rock four-piece have named themselves Are You a Fox?, which definitely gets the wheels turning even before you hear a note of what they have to play.

Is it better, runs the central question, to live one’s life as a fox, learning any number of skills and tasks, becoming a jack of all trades, or to live one’s life as a hedgehog, perfecting that one single talent, demonstrating that metaphorical ability to curl up into a ball and fend off all comers?

Well, for a corporate retreat sponsored by the Phoenix, I once had to read Good to Great, one of those business-efficiency/life-guidance books written in prose seemingly purposefully butchered to make the executives reading it feel better about their own internal memos. Its central message was that each business should adhere to the “hedgehog principle,” which basically advises that you find the one thing you do better than anyone else in the world and then proceed to make a pantload of money off it.

Apparently, any number of CEOs are filling their pants with dosh because they listened to just such advice.

Are You a Fox? take a dim view of this. They would not make great CEOs, I can assure you. Their wonderfully pastiched liner notes (nice work, Kelly Sue Rioux) give us Lyons’s take: “Startlingly resilient, timelessly clever, the fox has thwarted years of humankind’s incessant encroachment into their (natural) habitats and territories. It is this awareness to which I draw my arcane parallel to a quality much lacking in modern society.”

Damn that’s good stuff (despite some subject-pronoun number-agreement issues of which I won’t make mention). Dude’s only two years removed from fronting Carmine in the Reindeer Rock-Off and he’s dropping philosophy on the scene? That’s all you can really ask for from a budding sound recording technician putting in his time at UMass-Lowell.

I’m conflicted, though. In actuality, I’m not sure whether I’d like bands to be hedgehogs or foxes. One half of me just wants bands to find what they do best — big choruses, money lead vocals, tight musicianship, whatever — and build songs and albums around that. If you’ve got a money vocalist, don’t bother with all that Mr. Bungle crap. If you can get people to sing along, do it again, over and over.

But my intellectual subconscious recoils at the thought of formula bands releasing the same album over and over again and I’m probably the only one on Earth who thought Zooropa and Pop were good moves for U2.

Are You a Fox? embrace their foxiness for all it’s worth. On their debut five-song EP, Release the Hounds, though you might be able to identify a central aesthetic of pushing boundaries, it’s hard to pin down just what they sound like. There are elements of noise rock, jam, jazz, indie rock, funk/soul, and pure pop throughout, sometimes throughout even one song.

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