There must be no better way to get through brutal Minnesotan winters than to ingest piles of psychedelic drugs. At least, that’s what I suspect after getting acquainted with Fog’s Ditherer. How else to explain a work in which the devil shows up frequently, story strands about reincarnated inflatable apes and scooped-out human brains are picked up and dropped casually, and Fog main man Andrew Broder spouts lines like, “Would that I could gently hover/ Above it all like banana leaves?” Further eschewing his underground hip-hop roots (there’s nary a turntable to be heard here), Broder and his now stable bandmates bring to the forefront Fog’s lingering sense of the surreal.
Throughout Ditherer, Fog sounds like lo-fi Comets on Fire or early, raw Modest Mouse. The album is stacked with interesting guests, but Broder does well in not allowing them to tidy-up Fog’s winningly shamoblic sound too much. Broder’s buddies in the band Why? show up on “Hallelujah Daddy,” which, like many of Ditherer‘s songs, is made of multiple parts. It starts with the spazzy fried rock so prevalent on much of the album before shifting into a more percussive end section that has everyone chanting the song’s title like some fanatic gospel choir. Phil Elverum, of Mt. Eerie/Microphones fame, adds backing vocals to the next track, “What Gives?,” while Broder continues to do his howling backwoods-preacher act. The title track features a baroque violin solo from Andrew Bird, as well as electro-instrumentation from Bird collaborator Martin Dosh. And Minnesota’s patron saints of indie, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk of Low, lend their pipes to “What’s Up Freaks?” It’s a great little closer, helped in heaps by Parker’s always pretty voice, with Broder telling the tale of a night’s gig, much like Aimee Mann does on her immaculate “I’ve Had It.”
“Your Beef in Mine” is Ditherer‘s centerpiece and perfect encapsulation. Not content with just one story, Broder tells of a couple meeting in an airport hangar, someone drinking his own urine, someone running to catch a plane with semen running down his leg, and a pampered quarterback who makes life miserable for a sports bettor. Oh, yeah, and that “damn devil” shows up again, in an almost spoken-word interlude about the workingman’s blues. After all this oddness, the song actually ends in triumphant, big-chord guitar-rock form, not unlike Modest Mouse’s “Trailer Trash.”
Broder would do well to refine the good and bad qualities that make Ditherer so interesting. He should definitely keep following his psychedelic muse. His free-association wordplay can sometimes reach Dylanesque heights, with lines like, “Where is my seeing eye shrink?” and, “My TV has the plague.” But Broder shouldn’t assume all of this zaniness is equally appealing. At times it just comes off as ridiculous, as when he sings, “The very last I knew of you/ There was a flash, and then there was two of you,” stretching out the “yous” and “twos” unbearably. And “You Did What You Thought” is the most embarrassing exercise in the ’60s dark-side sound since Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” On the whole, though, Ditherer is a lot of great noise from a small band with big talent.