[1 February 2007]
The Whigs have rereleased Give ‘Em All a Big Fat Lip on the ATO Records label. ATO, home to Ben Kweller, My Morning Jacket, and Gomez, was founded in 2000 by Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band. The disc, recorded in July of 2005 and originally released in November of 2005 on an independent label, marks the beginning of the Athens, Georgia three-piece as signed artists. The group’s low-fi, rough sound is well-suited to the college rock genre, and it is fitting that the album was recorded in a University of Georgia frat house using equipment supposedly bought and sold on eBay. Athens, Georgia has been home to many a great artist, from Danger Mouse to the Elephant Six Collective, which includes Neutral Milk Hotel and Of Montreal.
No hometown influence, however, seems to pervade the work of the Whigs on this debut moreso than the ‘90s rock of bands like Athen’s own R.E.M., especially on tracks like “Nothing Is Easy” and “Violet Furs”. This is certainly a good thing: the Whigs’ sound is pure and unadulterated by so many of the digital effects and oversentimentality that plague modern music. The better elements of such alternative ‘90s bands—including Eve 6, Third Eye Blind, and Semisonic—seem to naturally find their way into the album’s guitar lines and simple jams, and the influence is a welcome one. The songs are not purely rock, however, and some allusions to the likes of the Beatles and Beach Boys shine through every now and then, lightening the potentially edgy themes of tracks like “Technology” and “O.K., Alright” and rendering them as bouncy, solid rock with a pop influence that is never too much.
The album as a whole is 43 minutes of tight and interesting burners that never fail to satisfy. “Technology” is ridiculously catchy, with a tight chorus, a sprawling bridge, and irresistible verses. “Violet Furs” stands out as one of the best tracks, reminiscent of a long car-ride through the 1990s, before iPods and Wars on Terror. The title track is bursting with bold energy, and Parker Gispert’s voice is the real deal, touched here with a certain desperation and urgency that helps to heighten the group’s accomplishment from merely good garage-band rock to genuinely artistic intent. More mellow and reserved tracks such as “Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Say Hello” provide welcome contrasts to an otherwise high-energy album. What these songs lack in tempo, they do not lack in intensity. The closing “All My Banks” is a nearly seven-minute-long, subtle, slow build of crying guitars and horn embellishments into a solid finale.
“Half the World Away” is the disc’s most musical piece, weaving varying ideas into one cohesive track of surprising power. The guitar solo halfway through is beautiful in its restraint, as the group as an ensemble fits together tightly to create music that reaches far beyond mere “college rock”. Releasing Fat Lip a second time on a larger label will hopefully garner the boys more exposure in an increasingly competitive world, exposure they rightfully deserve. I eagerly look forward to what The Whigs will bring us next as they broaden and expand their musical identity. In fact, scratch that last bit—I’ll be content if they merely continue to construct songs with such pure hooks and solid power.