Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 – Strangers From The Universe

3 out of 5

Label: Matador

Produced by: Greg Freeman, TFUL282

Strangers from the Universe was my first TFUL282 record, which normally would give it some reverence in my memories. And it has that…!, only, at the time, I was just really branching out musically, and I honestly didn’t really listen to things I bought, so much as taste test, and mark for approval. Some things grabbed me right away and stayed in my player (I jumped on the Modest Mouse train hard after my ears were blown out by Lonesome Crowded West); some things I sort of, er, just kept because I thought they looked good in a collection (let’s review how I owned every Belle & Sebastian album and literally only listened to the first few songs on the blue one. I was so cool!)

Matador was one of the first indie labels I earmarked for attention; TFUL282’s Strangers looked appropriately weird, and opening track My Pal the Tortoise was weird, with goofy, surreal lyrics – that seemed to take their tortoise topic semi-seriously? – and a completely tweaked art-rock style that was new to me. I did listen to the disc, but my brain kind of recognized that the style wasn’t super accesible to me yet, so put it in a “to be listened to more later” pile.

Over the years, my tastes would catch up, and TFUL would release a couple more albums on the Communion label, which I loved, while backfilling my collection with their earlier releases. Strangers from Another Universe still seemed to elude me, though…

Leading up to that album, the Fellers were… strange, and very art-rock, and their recordings were generally cast with a lo-fi pall. Past that album, the studio sound got more fleshed out, but they pushed past art-rock into the bizarre – operatic, alien works. Throughout, you can tell a Fellers track by its odd mix of busyness and hooks; and you can tell a Fellers album by its “filler” – little interstitial tracks, generally dreamlike, or noise, or surreal s clatter.

And during this climb from broken college splatter (their first few EPs / albums) to fractured, chaotic masterpieces (early Matador era), to flourished, Beefheart / Zappa bravado (Communion era), there was Strangers – a crossover point. Their most “accessible” album to most, and thus, perhaps the most muted. It has all of the group’s positives, but there’s something also sleepy in their affect; the filler practically blends into the actual songs; riffs are smooshed into a leveled-out recording, making the hooks and clatter hit with equal – softened – impact. It’s not exactly noisy; not exactly weird. I do think it’s an excellent starting point because of that, but when you go backwards or forwards from here, i find the work infinitely more exciting and enduring.

The singles you might hear referenced from this album (Tortoise; Noble Experiment; The Piston and the Shaft) are definitely worth your time, as is the disc, for sure. But you might find that it doesn’t make a strong enough impression for multiple listens; may I suggest you try another?