[23 July 2012]
Brooklyn via Rhode Island trio Fang Island make math-infused riff rock for indie kids whose ‘80s metal t-shirts aren’t quite as ironic as one might think. The band describes their own sound as “everyone high-fiving everyone” and their goal as musicians to “make music for people who like music”. On their sophomore full length, Major, they succeed admirably in accomplishing just that.
It doesn’t hurt that each one of the band’s members is a veritable virtuoso at their respective instruments. Guitarists Chris Georges and Jason Bartell saturate their dextrous riffage with exorbitant amounts of chorus, distortion and delay, conjuring up nostalgia for those bygone days when epic lead guitars were indulged in with a passion equalled only by that for hairspray and spandex. And drummer Marc St. Sauveur provides a thunderous rhythmic backbone that locks into the same meter defying impossibilities of such math-crazed forebears as Don Caballero and Battles. But in addition to their technical prowess, Fang Island have proved themselves on Major, as well as their 2010 self-titled debut, to be talented songwriters who somehow mold catchy tunes from an unlikely blend of retro kitsch, music nerd obfuscation and hard rocking machismo.
The album is bookended by “Kindergarten” and “Victorinian”, a pair of songs that replace the trio’s guitar dominated arrangements with dizzying piano lines, fuzzed out synth interludes and vocals that swell and dive like a drunken pub ballad sing-a-long. It’s a clear indication that the band is stretching themselves in some interesting new directions here, and the first half of the album will see them rifling through a range of genre reference points, while adhering to their overriding modus operandi of pure fretboard shredding glory.
“Sisterly” comes across as a pretty straight up indie anthem in the vein of Weezer or Surfer Blood, until you realize that it’s built around a 7/4 meter, or rather an alternating hybrid of 6/8 and 8/16, and even through you’re counting beats and doing basic arithmetic to wrap your head around the song’s rhythmic structure, you’re also humming along to its rousing and infectious chorus and will be for hours after it has ended. “Make Me” takes the band’s substantial cheese factor to a whole new level with swirling wind samples drifting across a musical landscape of righteous bongos, funky hair metal guitars, hand-clap snares and a fist-pumping, shout-a-long chorus. You just can’t help but smile as you nod along to that one.
Then, beginning with lead single “Asunder” the band cranks everything up a few more notches and begin to really flex their muscles. “Asunder” is a blazing rhythmic ballast of incessant snare hits and lightning speed punk rock guitars. They keep scorching along with high octane fury over the next few tracks, touching on tweaked-out country twang with “Dooney Rock”, and pop-punk catchiness mixed with Slash-worthy guitar soloing on “Regalia”.
But the climax of the album is “Chompers”, a track that firmly cements Fang Island’s place in a lineage of guitar ripping instrumental rock weirdos such as Buckethead and the Fucking Champs. It’s a furious fast burner replete with rapid fire power chords, break neck leads and exacting drum work that sounds like early Metallica overdosing on a combination of Adderall and Prozac.
Fang Islands’ name comes from an article in The Onion referring to Dick Cheney’s secret impenetrable lair. And much like this publication, they are a band that utilizes irony, humor and hyperbole to express an underlying conviction. But whereas The Onion’s satirical attack focuses on the realms of culture and politics, Fang Island’s message of import concerns the nature of their own chosen medium — that rock music can be fun, exciting and challenging all at the same time. This album is a powerful testament to that vision.