December 30, 2012

Album Review: FIDLAR's FIDLAR


Southern California's punk rock history runs decades deep, and while it has splintered into every which way since turning the world on its ear with reckless abandon, it's the revival of its earliest stages circa the late '70s and early '80s that is finding new life and listeners in modern times. We're seeing it happen with genre vets getting their infinite wind in the form of ex-Black Flag and Circle Jerk frontman Keith Morris' supergroup OFF! as well as Redd Kross staging a return to form on 2012's by-the-books comeback Researching the Blues. Likewise, next-gen rockers Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees are rethinking the core values of punk born inside basements, beach sides and garages down the Pacific coast, and introducing them to a younger scene with a set of fresh ears. Los Angeles' FIDLAR reside amongst the latter, but may have a closer kinship with the genre than their fellow 20-something-year-old counterparts seeing that brotherly founders Elvis and Max Kuehn are the sons of Greg Kuehn, keyboardist of longstanding SoCal punk act T.S.O.L. On the quartet's self-titled debut, FIDLAR hard flex a shorthand historical knowledge of the scene's crude and loud early days while entertaining the melodic sensibilities their generation grew up, beginning with the Descendents and their bastardized pop-punk offspring blink-182, resulting in harmless four-chord fun without the flatulence jokes.

Let's go one thing straight, however: FIDLAR doesn't seem very interested in reshaping punk either, and while nothing is wrong with sticking to the blueprint if you're doing it right, expecting to exit their first LP on the same booze-and-cocaine high these four kids claim to live on a 24 / 7 basis may be a challenge for adrenaline junkies. Lead singer Zac Carper's lyrics proudly flaunts Cali's stoned out skater culture vibes over tightly wound hooks, which are polite and benign recyclings of skuzz punk freakouts made cool again over the last five years mostly resembling Black Lips ("Gimme Something," "Blackout Stout," "Paycheck") JEFF the Brotherhood ("White On White," "Wait for the Man") and Wavves (the track in question ironically titled "No Waves.") The stories heard here about week-long benders feed into FIDLAR's namesake shtick for the skater motto "Fuck It Dog, Life's a Risk." Yet, these stories tend to overcompensate for the fact FIDLAR take far too few of them even from a revivalist perspective, going down roads their scene counterparts would steer clear to ward off sound-a-likes, thus rendering their brash image as slightly gimmicky.

It's not at a total let down, as album opener and lead single "Cheap Beer" is FIDLAR's most redeeming example of when familiarity works in their favor, as its chugging motions, shit-scraping vocals and undeniably catchy cuss-filled chorus replace Andrew W.K.'s bar-crawling anthem "Party Hard" as the house party equivalent for moshing punks with dead end jobs. Yet, when they trade those six-packs in for weed or blow ("Wake Bake and Skate," "Cocaine,") the repetitive buzz wears off until the tail end's snotty uptempo tracks "5 to 9" and "LDA" offer small jolts of pop-punk perfection you wish these animals would indulge more in. You can't knock FIDLAR for staying true to their punk upbringing by not taking their music too seriously in the face of indie rock's chronic fixation with overwrought creativity, but then again, their prolific neighbor Ty Segall always seems to find interesting ways to shred his guitar regardless of how many albums he puts out each year. And here lies the buzz kill at FIDLAR's party, in that the band is so caught up in having fun, you kind of wish they cared just a tad bit more about substance (and not the illegal ones) instead of shtick. Instead, FIDLAR's debut reassembles Southern California's punk rock history for a YOLO generation (reappropriated in this case with their own acronymical name) that rages hard without having to get their hands too dirty doing it.


FIDLAR's FIDLAR will be released January 22, 2013 on Mom + Pop Records.

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