“I’m an occasional drinker,” Raymond Chandler once wrote. “The kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” It’s doubtful that Chandler would get along with the guys from FIDLAR—he actually was a very sad person—but they’d certainly have a lot to talk about, writing wise. Mainly that both of their protagonists often drink a seemingly impossible amount of alcohol, and hang around Los Angeles, so convinced of their loserdom that they’re actually cool.
Along with Raymond Chandler, here are a few names I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if I threw around: The Descendants. Tales of Terror. JFA. Name a great garage/noise-rock/punk band, and Fuck It Dog Life’s a Risk—much like the city they hail from, they shorten their name—wants to be like them on FIDLAR. Anything that the brings the motherfucking raucous, in other words, without much sense or care for sub-genre.
And though they might sound more like Jay Reatard, everything from their Twitter handle (@fidlarLA) to the numerous neighborhood shout-out, shows that they’ve got a special place in their hearts for Southern California skate/D.I.Y greats, known for punches to the gut and water balloons full of piss to the face. And when they pull it off, like on opener “Cheap Beer”, they pull it off. “I! Drink! Cheap! Beer! So! What! Fuck! You!” yells lead singer Tom Carper like a man who knows the oxygen is running out and is using his last breaths to state a declaration of principle.
It’d be easy to mistake a lot of songs on FIDLAR as about partying, as opposed to getting fucked up. The two overlap sometimes, but there remains a big difference. “I just wanna get reaaaally high, smoke weed until I dieeee” on “Stoked and Broke”, for example. Later on that song Carper declares that “there’s nothing wrong with living like this!”, but you get the feeling that he’s just telling himself that so he can someday hear a crowd yell it back at him in justification. And lo and behold, just two songs later on “No Waves” he’s feeling like a grandpa and a crackhead, in need of a new body and/or new soul. “No Waves” is a well-deserved rest that leads to somewhat unwelcome self-realizations that FIDLAR can never quite shake.
FIDLAR’s best songs combine everything that’s great and terrible about the drugs that feature so prominently on the album. The great parts being that they make you feel invincible and that you’ll live forever, the terrible parts being that they sometimes make you paranoid and are way too expensive. The “Wake Bake Skate” featured here is slower than the one of their DIYDUI seven-inch, by a full eight seconds—and when a track is under a 1:50, you notice that sort of things. It still sounds like giant shaggy dog of a song, overjoyed at the chance to tackle you and stomp around and lick your face, because you finally came home with weed. All the instruments, including Carper’s voice, sound like they’re about to snap, but are going to continue to make you jump around until they do. Around the twentieth listen, if you have any experience with either of these topics, you might realize being “always broke” and “always stoned” sounds kind of awful. You’ll keep singing anyway, because how the hell could you not?
Carper’s lyrics work best when they apply a Duhnam-like sense of self. On the echo chamber to paradise that is “Paycheck” and the Disney head-bopping-above-words jam that is “5 to 9”, his words sound best when sound like they’re coming from that new CW series, The Lester (Bangs) Diaries. Even the lone attempt at #character comes from within—“Max Can’t Surf” is about drummer Max Kuehn. There are a couple throwaways that don’t really find anything to hang their hats on, but the guitars mostly carry those into the realm of acceptability. The only real failure is the black hole of misogyny that is “Whore”. Whatever possessed FIDLAR to include a song whose lyrics go, “Why did you have to leave me, you’re such a whore”, stifling that particular artistic desire would have made their debut a whole lot stronger. Frankly, calling Angeleno women “whores” is straight-up Papa Roach territory.
What do we want a punk/garage band to be in 2013? Now that people have figured out that there are quicker ways to becoming a musician than learning three chords, it also seems like a drag to be punk. FIDLAR’s debut isn’t going to reshape anyone’s idea of what is possible with guitars, but it shows how fun they can be—and on “Whore”, how frustrating. It’d feel dumb recommending editing or refinement or any sort of growth strategy to FIDLAR. These guys have been making D.I.Y from the start, I bet they’ll figure it out on their own.