FIDLAR – FIDLAR
Mom & Pop Music
It’s impossible to describe anything as being made for ‘a certain audience’ without sounding insulting. That said, LA punks FIDLAR’s self-titled debut full-length is exactly that, no slight intended. FIDLAR are self-consciously aligning themselves with a visible, tried-and-true tradition of California punk music. The only reason that these guys are an ‘indie’ band in 2013 is because the last wave of LA surf-punks to hit the mainstream have either traded in their membership cards for their creative ambitions (blink-182, Green Day) or settled into respectable semi-obscurity (the Offspring, the Vandals, and pretty much all of the rest of them).
That isn’t to say that I’m not glad to find FIDLAR under the mainstream’s radar, as their incessant and anthemic declarations of their love for weed, beer, cocaine, and cheap sex probably wouldn’t move a whole lot of units in Idaho, even if anyone was buying CDs anymore. There’s no poetry here, kids (“Why did you go betray me/you’re such a whore”), but if you’re one of the thousands of post-alt kids who torrented the entire Black Flag discography before going to the Wavves show, there’s plenty for you to love in FIDLAR. Singer Zac Carper has a pleasing early-Westerbergian yelp, and as cliché as it sounds, there is a charmingly unrelenting energy to the whole affair. There may not be much to set FIDLAR apart from the storied lineage they claim, but it does the heart good to know there are still dirty kids playing punk rock in the basements and skate parks of middle America.
Everything Everything – Arc
Everything Everything are riding back into town upon the electro-synth-and-guitar stallion that they broke in during their first album. While the horse was easily spooked, Jonathan Higg’s falsetto vocals were a masterful rider, and, after crossing the river of Mercury Prize nomination, the water is steaming off its back in the midday sun. This new album is a more refined entity with the guitars thrown in sparingly and songs more reliant on vocal arrangements, synth, and drums.
Lead singles “Cough Cough” and “Kemosabe” open the album in familiar territory, but about halfway through the record it becomes clear that there has been a change of gear.
“Duet” stands out as a track representing a new kind of confusion; a yearning love song set to strings, yet with lyrics littered with post apocalyptic imagery. By the end of the song, Alex Robertshaw is thrashing madly and semi-tonally at his guitar. As solid as this second album is (and for whatever it is worth, maybe even better than the first), I liked how nuts Everything Everything’s first LP was. It was called Man Alive. There was wittiness, guitars, and electro hooks in abundance. The wit, sadly, is gone, but as Arc rolls into its final track, “Don’t Try,” we are reminded that this stallion can run as fast as some of us remember.
Homeshake – The Homeshake Tape
“This is central control,” repeats Reverend Short, in a low tremor,” we are ready to transmit.” Within seconds, the white-haired, ‘UFO channeling’ Reverend begins to speak with an alien from planet Jupiter, all in the comfort of his Midwest American home. For occult enthusiasts, the warping of a classic clip is what gilds the jangly guitar-laden track “Northern Man” in Homeshake’s debut album, The Homeshake Tape.
Following in the footsteps of hip hop artists MF Doom and Wu-Tang Clan, Homeshake’s tracks pay tribute to childhood relics by sampling the likes of Dragon Ball Z, intergalactic sound effects, and stoner double-entendres into his grunge rock aesthetic. This collection of nine soul-inspired, home-recorded jams creates the ideal downbeat soundtrack for twenty-something nihilists.
Fading in from the outer recesses of Outremont’s dream-pop sound wave, Peter Sagar, the man behind Homeshake, crafts warbled yet eerily smooth guitar riffs that offer a languorous alternative to the Montreal scene. Displaying a penchant for lo-fi experimentation, Sagar cleverly blends dissonant chords and out-of-tune vocals with spontaneous beats, and sets it to the syrupy hooks of his guitar. Though many listeners have noticed the similarities between the hazy harmonies of Homeshake and fellow Albertan expat, Mac DeMarco, the pocketed bass-lines that underline Sagar’s tracks hint at a stronger root in soul and hip hop. By trading in the raw and kinetic energy of Green and Burke for languid and groggy ballads, such as “Moon Woman,” his tape manages to push the boundaries of distorted soul.
Departing from his former solo project, Sans AIDS, an outfit that was reminiscent of a Guided By Voices record played at half-speed, Sagar’s recent release has shown significant development in quality and production. The tracks seem to explore interim states of lucidity that stir in the moments before his instruments wake to a complete melody, and dissipate by the time his voice drifts out of tune. At the end of the day, The Homeshake Tape offers a homegrown taste of moon rock for the dazed, the stoned, and the deluded.
—Mercedes Sharpe Zayas
Ducktails – The Flower Lane
With a title like The Flower Lane, you’d expect the cover of Ducktails’ newest album to be pretty much anything other than a plain black-and-white tile pattern. Yet these seeming opposites – poetic romance and precise technique – are exactly what Ducktails’ fourth album is all about.
The trendy, nostalgic, lo-fi style is appealing, but perhaps overused. Ducktails’ minutely-produced aesthetic feels somewhat too clean-cut and predictable for the blurry lo-fi world the band usually inhabits, but The Flower Lane redeems itself with compelling instrumental passages. With this first studio album, Ducktails is leaning toward a more structured and lyric-centered pop style.
The new LP is guitarist Matt Mondanile’s effort to transform Ducktails from a solo side project for his band Real Estate to a diverse collaborative endeavour. While collaboration means a greater variety of details – sax solos and synth riffs galore – it also subtracts from the contemplative, personal, and authentic style of Ducktails’ previous work.
Mondanile’s voice is constantly casual, à la Ariel Pink, while The Flower Lane’s bubbly electro-pop explorations bring to mind Cut Copy. The album’s first single, “Letter of Intent” – featuring ethereal vocals by Future Shuttle’s Jessa Farkas (think Au Revoir Simone) – is charming, but fails to deliver the unique punch a single calls for. “Under Cover” combines the album’s strongest elements in a single track: a soothing summertime feel, simple and effective instrumental riffs, and cheeky lyrics (“do you want to go under the covers?”) murmured in a detached and easygoing tone.
Ducktails’ greatest potential lies in the casual, almost haphazard, lo-fi folk instrumentalism they have previously explored. Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, Ducktails’ last album, had a more compelling, flowing depth to it, but The Flower Lane evidences a keener exploration of pop vocals, making for what is, at its core, a cheerful synth-pop album. While The Flower Lane has some interesting instrumental passages, Ducktails seem to be losing track of their charmingly casual style with occasionally repetitive and over-structured motifs striving to cover a lack of genuine passion.