Fin Fang Foom: Texture, Structure, and the Condition of Moods
Fin Fang Foom (yes, they are indeed named after the Marvel Comics character) are a band who don't want to be labeled "math rock", because they throw in other elements to their sound, such as piano and vibes. However, trying not to think of them as a math rock band is a tough suggestion to make. For throughout Texture, Structure, and the Condition of Moods' 10 tracks is a sound of a band doing everything they can to break free from the expected melodies and rhythms of most other groups out there that aren't in the math rock genre. Suffice it to say that these guys know more equations than 2+2=4.
The band formed in 1996 in Jacksonville, Florida. The original configuration of the group found Michael Triplett on guitar, a P. Enriquez on drums, and Edwin Sanchez on bass. After the group lost Enriquez in 1997, drummer Michael Glass entered the fold and the band headed up to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they subsequently worked out their signature sound and proceeded to record and release Texture.
The sound of Fin Fang Foom is as dark and foreboding as their namesake (for those who aren't familiar with comic books, Fin Fang Foom was a big old bad ass dragon). Lots of minor chords and melodies, constantly shifting beats, and Edwin Sanchez' booming voice all take center stage. The opening cut "The Fool and the Feign", despite its interesting title, gets bogged down fast in all of its sonic weightiness. This is one of those groups in which the term "angular guitar lines" could be thrown about. There are indeed a lot of those there. And while Fin Fang Foom certainly plays a formidable style of (not) math rock, they don't really get to stretch out much on this first song.
That stretching comes along on the second track, "Dead Ringer". Here, Sanchez wails loudly while the band attacks all somber and grim. But perhaps they stretch out too much here, as the tune decidedly breaks off into a section complete with piano notes and a flute wheezing about. Indeed, this is where Fin Fang Foom wants to convince its audience that they aren't another math rock band. But again it's hard to believe them when the raging guitars and drums come back at the end of the track and swallow everything up, leaving Triplett's clean, quiet guitar chords to close the tune on a jarringly peaceful note.
Fin Fang Foom's ideas are worthy of exploration. It's just too bad that they try to cram all these ideas into each song here. "Of Weddings and Funerals" is probably the best song on the album, with its low-key piano parts and Sanchez' indecipherable mumbling creating a hypnotic stew that is strikingly original. Now if the band could only keep its tendencies to wreak havoc over the pretty parts in check more often, things would work much better here. But they don't, allowing tracks like "Warriors! Come Out To Play" and "Fate and Chaos" to wash together in their similar sounds and create the illusion of one big song.
Unfortunately, the band's overall sound and style is something that one should probably be familiar with beforehand or enjoys no matter what. There's only so much time signature shifting, pained vocals, and disjointed guitar that can seemingly be enjoyed in one sitting. True, Fin Fang Foom is skillful and know what they're doing, but that doesn't make their songs any easier to take, nor does it mean that skillful automatically equals enjoyable. At times the band sounds like a cross between Shudder to Think, Archers of Loaf, and The Record Time, but they can never seem to decide which road they want to travel, instead going all three ways at once and breaking down before it's all over.
On a track like "Deception" with its shimmering guitars, a recognizable melody, and tight vocals by Sanchez, Fin Fang Foom are definitely at the top of someone's game. "Blue Holes", a quieter, mainly instrumental piece is also worth hearing. It's just too bad that they couldn't keep this level of interest up throughout the album. As it's songs like "At Age 23" and "Iron Coat" that want to wreak havoc and soothe at the same time that completely muddle the band's efforts.
It's an interesting concept in theory. To rattle the cages and then pull the security blanket on top all within the same song. But it's rarely done successfully on this album, if at all. Fin Fang Foom are best when they play it relatively straight and stick to one formula or the other. So consider Texture, Structure, and the Condition of Moods to be somewhat of a split album overall. It's not good. It's not bad. It's just there.