Stiletto Feels’ The Big Fist Offers Paradoxical Performances for the Enlightened

by Nick Hanover

Stiletto Feels

Sometimes I wonder what Walt Whitman would think of the modern uses of his “I am large, I contain mutitudes” line. Its ubiquity can be seen not just in defenses of self-contradiction but also in modern maximalism, digital access to nonstop flows of content and technology and interaction. Too frequently it’s a cop out, a way of shrugging off an inability to keep focus or stick to an aesthetic but that’s not entirely at odds with Whitman’s intent either. Americans have always been contradictory, pursuing liberty but not always happiness, chasing down new frontiers but not really changing their ways all that much. Stiletto Feels’ The Big Fist is an apt representation of all these dilemmas and contradictions– the band itself is large and contains multitudes, assembled by Fresh Millions’ Geoff Earle from various contributions from other musicians, blending genres and techniques and tastes. The end product is an album that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be but like Whitman, it accepts that, choosing to embrace the contradictions. But is it really all that different from works of more cohesive ideology? Is its embrace of its paradoxes breaking new ground or is it symbolic of American pioneering, wandering into new land only to suffer from the same problems and setbacks?

The first half of the album certainly makes a strong case for the former notion. Stretching from noisy electro-funk to quieter, piano driven ballads and cabaret pop, The Big Fist is initially propelled on intoxicating musical momentum. There’s abundant weirdness in this opening stretch and that works to Stiletto Feels’ advantage, particularly on the self-destructive hook-up anthem “Monster,” where a gently cooed vocal comes across as sinister and seductive over some B-movie scoring. There’s a similar soundtrack feel to “Times Like These” but there it’s Looney Tunes and spy films breeding in secret, Acme library orchestra stabs and evil genius theme songs eventually giving way to a Flaming Lips-esque melody. The most normal moment comes from “Molassacre,” a collab with Shmu that could end up soundtracking more than a few regrettable hook-ups.

The first sign of strain comes with “The Hell Am I Doing,” an obnoxious mish mash of early Peaches beats and lo-fi club banger synths. Though it comes directly after the excellent hazy electro pop single “Steal Your Guitar,” “The Hell Am I Doing” mostly serves as a sign of the glitchier electronics that will close the album out, climaxing in the epic, dubby “Rats on a Sinking Ship.” “Rats” at least takes some interesting risks, pairing the most reverberated vocal Lee “Scratch” Perry never produced with noisy synths and an explosion of ’80s coke funk. But it still feels aimless, as does much of what precedes it on the back half of The Big Fist.

Perhaps that’s because the more electronic focused songs on The Big Fist are less melody driven, lacking the confident vocal seduction that enables “Steal Your Guitar” to function so well as a lead off single. The multitudes that moments like “Steal Your Guitar” contain are not just discernibly different, but also in possession of full personalities of their own. As intriguing as portions of “Rats” experimentation are, they are ultimately nebulous, hampered by an unformed identity and an inability to evolve into something recognizable and addictive. It’s distracted music for distracted people versus Side A’s paradoxical performances for the enlightened.

It’s hard to really be mad about that, though. To return to the conundrum that began this review, The Big Fist might suffer from a lot of the issues of unfocused songwriting and sketchy detours that brings down so much modern music, but the moments where Earle and his merry pranksters wander into truly uncharted territory and make it their own are remarkable and absolutely worth your attention. If Earle can rein in whatever makes the first half of The Big Fist such a delight and evolve Stiletto Feels’ sound to more consistently churn out material on that level, Stiletto Feels will blossom into the best sort of musical pioneers, the kind who improve in their journey and create lasting change.

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover