It seems entirely possible that brothers Robert and David Perlick-Molinari (collectively French Horn Rebellion) have singlehandedly made French horns cooler than they’ve ever been in all of musical history. On the new album, Classically Trained, the pair strike a stylistic balance between their early influences and 2015’s glorious horn funk opus, Foolin’ Around.
The Molinari brothers grew up in Wisconsin and the band formed when Robert was studying classical horn at Northwestern University. Feeling constrained by the rigidity of classical culture, he began to play music with David (producer for MGMT), and together the two created a signature sound that infuses glitchy electronic funk and pop with, yep, the exceedingly unlikely French horn.
They self released several EPs and full length albums between 2007 and 2014, and last year the band came on my radar with their generous 7-track Foolin’ Around EP. From the stuttering opening bars of Play Your Part, I was hooked. On Foolin’ Around, the main attraction really is the horn, lending the funky tunes a refreshing old-school vibe and giving a whole new understanding to just exactly what a “French horn rebellion” sounds like.
Classically Trained feels like the midpoint between Foolin’ Around and FHR’s early albums, The Infinite Music Of French Horn Rebellion and Next Jack Swing, Pt. 1. Songs like Life Choices and Second Opinion pick up where Foolin’ Around left off, with their rich disco synths, dripping bass lines, and prominent horn parts. Meanwhile, punchy singles Day By Day and The Right Time rely more on chopped, ultra-modern trappings that bring to mind the likes of RAC, Viceroy, and Penguin Prison.
Tunes on both sides of the stylistic divide sparkle with French Horn Rebellion’s characteristic panache for grinningly catchy choruses and solo-dance-party-inducing production, (seriously, try to sit still through Life Choices – I dare you) but for me, the tracks taken from Foolin’ Around (Classical Baby and Foolin’ Around) steal the show with every listen. It is in these songs where the odd-couple marriage between electronic production and the French horn feels most natural and the pair’s “classical training” is on display at its sexiest.
In a 2010 sit down with Interview Magazine, David and Robert talked about the meaning of the French horn. “It has to do with the struggle to understand who you are. The reason why the whole band started was Robert felt like he wasn’t fitting in. In modern society, the horn player has very limited options.” explained David.
He emphasized that, at least back then, the vision for the band was still very much a process in evolution. “We have no idea if Robert would be better off playing his horn in an orchestra and expressing himself that way. The idea behind the whole thing was trying to find a better way to express ourselves distinctively.”
I like the French horn as a symbol for the rather paradoxical but inescapably human task of finding whatever it is that makes you special, unique – weird, even – and using that thing as a tool to fit in. Listening to the album through this lens gives the songs a poetry beyond their danceability and paints a pretty cool picture of the freak flag this Rebellion flies.
Buy Classically Trained here.