Ball of Design – Dufus
New York anti-folk collective Dufus is the kind of band that openly invites critics to hyperbolize — hell, they don’t just invite us, they also send a stretch limo with a full bar and hors d’oeuvres to take us there. Their previous record, 1:3:1, was (not unjustly) uniformly lauded by the music press, but the awestruck prose was so over-the-top, so devoid of objective rigor, filled with sanctified assertions and appellations, that the band came off as a creepy hippie cult — something that the music did not necessarily support.
Though the music on 1:3:1 is most certainly a slap in the ear (Dufus sounding like a band having a bonfire with pop song structure and rolling around in its ashes), the critics took this to the next level and turned Dufus into the Anarchic Granola Saviors of Western Civilization. Well, somewhere along the way, Seth Faergolzia and company must have started believing their own reviews, because Dufus’ new CD, Ball of Design, is in fact the record that critics thought 1:3:1 to be: a revolutionary sermon in form and function, in music and lyrics. And even if you’re not completely sold by the message, the unquenchable enthusiasm and daring of its delivery is enough to give you an aesthetic awakening.
"I am resolved to making people happier," Faergolzia sings in "Wrinkle," and, you know what, I think I believe him. This line (placed, appropriately enough, on the disc’s poppiest track) encapsulates the spirit of Ball of Design and the plans of its primary creator. From the ecstatic and sinuous opening track, ‘Freedom’ to the inspirational chanting that brings ‘Specinal’ to its emotional climax, Ball of Design tickles you in places you didn’t know could be tickled, and you’re grateful for the discovery.
These revelations, however, come from a hand that isn’t primarily concerned with pleasing you, but with changing you (hence the comparative form of "happy" in the lyrics quoted above). Dufus’ modus operandi is laid out early on: ‘This is a time to let go — let go of all that you think you know.’ After declaring his intentions, Faergolzia then spends the next 45 minutes warping his effusive vocal outbursts around mercurial melodies, with sporadic sound bytes and studio wizardry peppering the pathway. Faergolzia constantly pushes his voice beyond its natural range, and though the result is occasionally grating, it is all part of Dufus’ plan — progress through a radical change of direction; clearer communication through a new vernacular.
The rub of trying to create a new language – musically, politically, environmentally, etc – is that a lot of people aren’t going to understand you and won’t be willing to put in the effort to figure it out. Dufus’ regularly intensifies this problem by matching their fugue-like bricolages with oblique lyrics and context-free neologisms (I have yet to figure out what a "Pakistan Enellellope" is), and as a result, even those listeners who successfully penetrate through the disc’s chaotic surface to discover the ornate underlying structure will fall short of a complete understanding.
What lingers is a sense of awe, developed from that human tendency to elevate in status things you can’t fully understand. I don’t know whether to trust this feeling, since I have my doubts that Faergolzia and company have a comprehensive grasp on what they’re saying, but I am confident that they know why they’ve made Ball of Design: because American reality is stale, confining, banal, boring, destructive. Their optimism about changing this situation may be naive, and their complete condemnation of it may be heavy-handed (not to mention wrong), but the music generated from their politics certainly gives credence to the effort. Rather than wallowing in the mundane, Faergolzia prefers ‘to stare into the sun and burn my eyes with love, my eyes in kindness’; Ball of Design offers listeners the same experience…with no damage to your retinas (last time I checked).