Bit by the Fang is a decidedly lo-fi, low-key album of psychedelic alt-country folk pop -- Big Lebowski fans, take note.
In numerous pop songs, the speaker is in trouble or brings trouble. If the trouble is real, the songs sound weepy, sad, and full of emotion; or, they sound ominous, with distortion and loud guitars. Last year, Ryan Adams released an entire set of such songs on his self-titled album, the best of which was “Trouble,” which created a menacing groove. “We might as well be dead and be gone / If we don't belong here”, Adams sang convincingly. One measure of the debut album by John Andrews, Bit by the Fang, is how his song called “Trouble” is mellow, and very slow, and actually contains the high-pitched warbling of a saw. “I found trouble when I found you”, Andrews sings, but the song’s sound suggests that this is the kind of trouble you might have if you smoked pot and didn’t have anything in your refrigerator. Oops. Bummer. Guess I’ll close my eyes; sorry, man.
John Andrews is a talented musician. He is the drummer of the Boston-based indie band Quilt, whose dream pop has attracted regional attention. Andrews is the keyboardist for the Brooklyn-based indie band Woods, whose psychedelic folk-pop has garnered considerable fans. In between recording and playing gigs with those two bands, while he was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Amish country) and working irregularly at the Salvation Army there, Andrews began writing songs. When in between band tours he moved back to his hometown of Yardville, New Jersey, he recorded the songs in his grandparents’ living room. For this album of original songs, Andrews played all the instruments: piano, guitars, drums, as well as the afore-mentioned saw. He is the band -- the Yawns don’t really exist, which may make this a very clever band name.
One of the album’s best songs blends a country feel into Andrews’ psychedelic folk. The sound is reminiscent of the Band if their songs were played just slightly slower with numerous blue-notes. “Hey there, Judy / Someday down the line / I’ll go to your funeral / If you’ll go to mine”, Andrews sings in the song “I’ll Go to Your Funeral (If You’ll Go to Mine)”. It’s a witty line, and representative of Andrews’ light-hearted approach to all his subjects here. He references his time in Lancaster with “Pennsylvania”, a song with Amish and rooster mentions. In the jangly and fun “Don’t Spook the Horses,” he asks us not to spook those horses -- we won’t, and neither will the song. The strongest tune here is “Quitting the Circus”, whose melody evokes the psychedelic-influenced Beatles, though Andrews fuzzes out the instruments and vocals far more.
Bit by the Fang is decidedly lo-fi. There’s no lyric sheet with the album, and it’s difficult at times to catch the words, given their muffled quality; instrumental lines often don’t come off distinctly. The energy level stays low, even when a piano arrangement sounds like honky-tonk. “Languid” best describes the style. But as I listened more, the album’s charms emerged. If you know The Big Lebowski so well that you can watch it with the sound off, try accompanying the film with this album. It’s got that kind of vibe.