Friday, October 1, 2010

Fang Island (2010)

(Sargent House)

The highest compliment you can pay this band is that they're really, really enthusiastic. The music Fang Island puts together on their debut album is some seriously pumped-up, fist-in-the-air stuff, ideal for motivation or jogging. While listening to "Life Coach" I found myself thinking of it as an emo variation on Jock Jams -- the voices are whinier but the effect is mostly the same. The aggro-singalong sheen is even more pronounced on "Daisy," which sounds like a mid-'90s Mountain Dew commercial: it's sort of invigorating and you can picture kids screaming and skydiving along with it. But it also sounds a lot like things I tend to avoid, such as all the pseudo-punk dickheads who were so difficult to escape on the radio eight or nine years ago. Or, yikes, Journey. Or, yikes, Queen.

Except, like, without songs. Most of these tracks are less pop music than pop chants, wordless or mostly wordless wailing; witness "The Illnois," opening on what sounds like a men's choir covering My Chemical Romance or something before it starts stomping around with heavy guitars and orderly, nonsensical masculine venting. The intent is for these to feel massive, not just a chorus of vocals but a wall of them, all the citizens of the world yelling along to babadapabadabababa. There are a few instrumentals as well, and while it's hard to tell them apart, these too work off a communal intensity seemingly geared to letting it all out while the heart rate goes up. It isn't so much joy as just asexual expelling of pent-up energy, something that both teenagers and working folk can probably latch on to with no trouble.

I'm not feeling much personality in all this drama, so I tend to relate to a more modest sound; Fang Island does deliver this once, on the appealing "Treeton," which abandons the brashly broad strokes and plays more with rhythm, texture, and subtlety. Otherwise, I have a hard time getting inside this music; it seems designed more for concert throngs than one-on-one contact, but based on a vague, almost unexpressed, connection. An intriguing idea, but at this stage, the trappings still seem too obvious, the influences too easy to spot, the methods too rote, for me to be ready to take the trip.

That doesn't mean you won't. It's just that this is all a bit too bright, sunny, and anonymous for me (and the guitars are much, much too clean; did Mutt fucking Lange produce this!?) -- on the surface, it doesn't really signify much beyond a sort of juvenile good-times celebration, and the music's too loud and proggy to get underneath. I dig musical liberation -- it's just a question of what music you find liberating; this doesn't take me there. It has a bit of Candy Mountain overbearing: it's not bubblegum, but it could still hurt your teeth. Worth a look anyway if you need a new exercise and/or revolution incitement playlist. And at thirty-one minutes, it's not asking for a whole lot of your time. You might even fit it in twice before you finish your workout/coup d'etat.

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