FIDLAR – “Too”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “40oz. on Repeat” “Overdose”

With track titles like “Punks,” “Overdose,” and “Bad Habits,” it might seem like “Too” is more of the same from FIDLAR. Their first album, mind you, had “Blackout Stout,” “Wake Bake Skate” and “Cocaine.” It might feel like there’s a gambit in song titles that FIDLAR is quickly running through. But, their sophomore album is an album that some people, myself included, didn’t anticipate coming so soon – the conflicting, adult album. Most punk bands grow up sometime – Rancid’s “Life Won’t Wait,” Dads’ “I’ll Be the Tornado.” FIDLAR’s maturity is a very reluctant one – some tracks on “Too” feel like holdovers from still-recent partying years. But as the guys grow up, they’re begrudgingly accepting a more sober life.

One of the best qualities of FIDLAR’s debut album, a personal favorite of mine, was an underlying, barely visible sense of angst. It only came out in certain songs, when the guys were sober enough to see that there were far too many problems in the world. Through the more youthful and the more adult songs on “Too,” the unifying sense is still the slight angst. This time, it’s on a more personal level, as “Too” is heavy on self-reflection. “I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to talk to someone I don’t know,” is sung on “40oz. on Repeat.” “One week sober / and I’m still hungover,” from closer “Bad Habits.” “FIDLAR” was a humorously self-deprecating album, but “Too” ditches the humor. Take the lyrics from “Bad Habits,” set them in an entirely different musical context, and they could fit nicely on an Alice in Chains album.

But they’re still at a crossroads, because there’s still party tracks. “Sober,” despite the title, is almost inarguably the strangest song in the band’s catalog, with the opening third of the song done almost in spoken word (think the beginning of “The Sweater Song”* but with the vocal melody of “Baby Got Back”). And the album’s penultimate track, “Bad Medicine,” is a >3 minute song that feels like one last punk blast, for old time’s sake, the inverse of Renton taking one last injection in Trainspotting.

As with their debut album, the band has an innate and unexpected ability to eschew any one sub-genre of music. The downside is that it leaves FIDLAR without a distinct sound, something important in punk. But the upside is that each song is going to sound distinct. “Punks,” originally (or perhaps erroneously) titled “The Punks Are Finally Taking Acid,” is a heavy song, centered on a guitar riff akin to a quickened “She’s So Heavy,” with pained, screamed vocals. But follow-up “West Coast” is the kind of bouncy sing-along you more expect from the band. It goes back and forth, often reflective of the lyrics, and it adds a cohesiveness to the album. The lyrics are well-rounded, so the music should be too.

“Too” does ask one question that it does not answer – who should FIDLAR’s audience be, now? Their first album was able to answer that question very, very easily – partying punks and skaters. It’s practically a Ten Commandments for SoCal late teens who are gradually becoming less aware of Mat Hoffman. But their second album was made more for themselves, and that’s a dangerous line to cross. Just because we’re being let on on FIDLAR’s internal struggles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something we want to see. I’m genuinely not sure who the intended audience is for this record, as the partyers generally aren’t going to warm up to the sobering songs as much. There’s a mixed audience for the album, and it’s going to be divisive among fans. Still, there’s enough going on that it stands as a solid, and different sophomore release. I’m just worried about what the band is going to have to go through for the next album.

* – I saw FIDLAR a couple months ago in Boston and they covered “the Sweater Song,” replacing most of the verses with the word “meow” repeated over and over again. Inspiration? Probably.

If you like this, try: Perfect Pussy’s “Say Yes to Love,” another album where a punk band suddenly tightened up, but not without a total maturity.

Zomby – “With Love”

Photo Credit: Spin Magazine

Photo Credit: Spin Magazine

Grade: B

Key Tracks: Disc 1 – “Overdose,” “777”

Disc 2- “How to Ascend,” “With Love”

Zomby is a solo electronic musician, and “With Love,” his third album, finds him exploring brief ideas and a mid-90’s influence. The album, almost entirely instrumental, is largely compromised of minimalistic hip-hop beats. The album feels like hip-hop with the vocals. The album is two discs, separated by emotions. Disc One is “rough,” and features seventeen blasts of party-dreaming hip-hop beats, begging to be freestyled over. There is a certain roughness to this album, largely in the transitions between ideas. Most tracks do not end, but abruptly cut to the next in a rough transition. And although it is minimalistic, it has a certain heaviness to it. Disc One feels like it was made after a binge on dirty 90’s hip-hop, and it is successfully reminiscent of it.

Disc Two is “contemplative,” although there is not a sharp departure from Disc One. It is still minimalistic electronica, just a little more hushed-down. This album is sixteen tracks, not seventeen, showing that each idea still ends just as it becomes old. The average length of a song on either album hovers around two minutes. If I recall, there is only one track with vocals on this album, compared to two on the first disc. This album lacks the party grab, which was intentional. But when the music is quick bursts of what is largely background music, it starts to border on unnecessary. Still, it makes for something to put on in the background when you’re going about your day. Zomby’s stuff might be exactly what you’ve been hearing for years, and it feels pointless at times. But it is an enjoyable listen, for parties or guilty pleasure.

If you like this, try: Disclosure’s debut “Settle,” more minimalistic electronic that’s perfect for parties.

-By Andrew McNally