Album Review: FIDLAR - 'Almost Free'
FIDLAR have been, for me at least, one of the most interesting and eclectic bands in modern punk/ alternative music. From the band's self titled debut, a raw and raucous punk record, to it's follow up Too, a record with still a potent energy wrapped in more thought out and produced package, to even the various releases that can be found by trawling the bands YouTube channel (a highlight for me being their Elvis Presley - Devil In Disguise cover).
The band now prepare to release their latest effort, ‘Almost Free’. A thirteen track journey into what FIDLAR is in 2019. It’s an eclectic collection of tunes centred around the themes the band has always and continue to handle well. In sound it’s even tighter production-wise, evident straight from opener ‘Get Off My Rock’. An unhinged beat with Zac Carper’s snarling vocals overtop, all accompanied with bluesy instrumentation and glitchy sound snippets. The band's cover of the Beastie Boys track, ‘Sabotage’, comes to mind for multiple reasons. The track transitions between modes and levels of aggression throughout and ultimately serves as a great intro to the record’s own strange style.
The slick rocker, ‘Can’t You See’ follows with guitarist Elvis Kuehn’s’ first vocal appearance on the record with Zac handling hooks showing the pair still have the vocal chemistry we’ve come to expect. ‘By Myself’ comes in next with a more boisterous, pop feel to it. It’s no surprise this bouncing track became a single, handling drinking and lack thereof in the FIDLAR way. It may have the most upbeat delivery of lines about needing psychiatric help in music and that’s all a part of it’s charm. It’s grinning at you in a drunken state and reaching for another beer that it doesn’t need.
Skipping forward to the track ‘Alcohol’ we find FIDLAR happening upon their roots in many ways. Claustrophobic verses explode into enormous choruses dripping with ambience. It’s punk rock squeezed and contorted by a mad pop scientist. It’s filled with huge sounds and rhythms, a real powerhouse. It’s followed by title track, ‘Almost Free’. It’s a mad little track filled with horns and fuzzy, desert rock riffs. ‘Scam Likely’ follows on from it and those horns are still here, adorning the track’s pre chorus and bridge. Also present are sharp guitars and rock steady rhythms from Schwartzel and Kuehn brother #2.
Breaking into the records second half we get ‘Called You Twice’ featuring K.Flay (AKA Kristine Flaherty).. The track, reportedly written on a single guitar by Zac and Kristine after the former was broken up with. It’s a lovesick, quirky little ballad showing a side of the band that often goes unseen. It’s a gem, wrapped in the record’s signature aesthetic. Don’t get too soppy though as the next track, Nuke, is coming. A 40 second snippet that, I imagine, does a good job of replicating the feeling of falling victim to its namesake.
‘Too Real’ opens up with a busy drum beat and the vocals sounding delirious overtop. Before long the guitars come in and rip the track open. The stream of furious consciousness lyrics live up to the song name and are delivered and produced in such a manic style that just takes the mood of the song and runs a quarter mile with it. ‘Kick’ follows this on a more mellow note but still retaining plenty of conviction across it’s beat lead length.
The final two tracks roll up and we’re sadly nearly over. ‘Thought. Mouth.’ Starts out sounding like a noughties pop smash before morphing into something of a teen outcast anthem. It’s a rocker through and through despite its split personality. It’s one of those tracks that makes you look up from what you’re doing and wonder who had the idea for it and whether anyone believed it’d turn out so damn good. Good Times Are Over takes closing duties. Vocals over muted guitars open into an acoustic tinged verse sounding somewhere in the region of Built to Spill. The choruses build on each other with bittersweet hooks building too. A guitar solo, screams and more are all present across the track. Like the track before, we see the band edging towards anthem territory and it makes perfect sense.
‘Almost Free’ is so hard to describe succinctly. It starts out sounding like the Beastie Boys crossed with the cursed hip hop of a group like Death Grips before colliding with FIDLAR’s traditional surf-tinged punk. Somewhere along the way other things get mixed in and you get this wonderful collage of sound you’ll be able to purchase come January 25th. It’s a refreshing record as it sounds like no one limited the scope. No one tried to pin it down, it was allowed to flap free in the wind and it gave us the madness I’ve just tried to describe.
Fans of the bands sophomore record will no doubt love the sound and it’s diverse enough that there’s certainly tracks in there for those only familiar with their debut. Those who haven’t heard FIDLAR before are perfectly fine starting here with the album showcasing all the different styles the band has mixed in over the years. When Almost Free drops on January 25th, give it a listen. You won’t regret this crazy ride.
Words by Nathan Blackstone