RIYLMinus The Bear
Built to Spill
Tracklist1 Dreams of Dreams
2 Careful Crossers
4 Life Coach
6 The Illinois
8 Davey Crockett
9 Welcome Wagon
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Sargent House Records had a phenomenal 2009, releasing albums from RX Bandits, Red Fang, Bygones, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Native and many more; establishing themselves as one of the best and busiest record labels still in business. This year looks to be no different, as the label prepares its first release of the decade in the form of Fang Island’s official self titled debut album. After an independently released record and follow-up EP, Fang Island are prepared to make an impact on the industry this year, showcasing their notorious blend of progressive musicianship, overwhelming doses of optimistic pop, math rock inspired rhythms, and heavenly chants. It must be mentioned that the band describes their sound as, “everyone high-fiving everyone,” and the strange thing is… that’s a fairly accurate description. The band set off with the aspirations of recording music people can feel good about, and they do so with luscious harmonies, vivid angular guitar arrangements, and blast beat drumming forming a complex but uplifting ambiance.
“Dreams of Dreams” launches the record with the sound of exploding fireworks while the guitars slowly rise with an 8-bit sonic vibe. The guitars come to a halt for a quiet organ line accompanied by the soaring gang vocals the band is synonymous with. While the lyrics are sparse throughout the record, the singular vocal line of the song finds the entire band joining in singing, “They are all within my reach, they are free.” The band transitions seamlessly into the hard grooving, hyper ballistic timed “Careful Crossers”. The trio of guitarists (Jason Bartell, Chris Georges, and Nicholas Andrew Sadler) load riffs a plenty into the short instrumental burst of a song, as they wind and circle around each other with clarity and precision. The rhythm section crashes in during the track’s final surge as everything spirals about with the indie guitar rock licks that would make Built to Spill and Modest Mouse blush. The band’s first single, “Daisy,” follows with catchy anthemic vocals rising just above the care-free guitar storm that rages on, leaving a cheerful trail of destruction. There is an incredible amount of things going on in the short length of the song, but the band remains focused, never acting overly self indulgent.
The jerky Nintendo inspired sound of “Life Coach” is fueled with a strong dance floor groove, joined by wailing feedback that blends into cascading electronics and experimental guitar effect manipulation. Massive choir-like vocals add to the texture as the guitars are cranked to stun just before the slow, contrasting dirge of the bridge erupts. The pace quickly climbs back into a frenzy on the manic “Sideswiper”. Imagine the tone of early era Weezer, with the technical abilities of Minus The Bear, and an intense love for 90’s indie guitar rock. Sharp tapped guitars swirl together in a haze of sound without ever embarking down the familiar “noise rock” roads. Large doses of reverb will immediately remind some of their post-rock forefathers, but the band has created a sound far larger and entirely more non-compromising. Fang Island songs are extremely busy but manage to catch the ear just right without appearing cluttered. The time signatures are constantly shifting, adding an extensive arsenal to their amalgamation of power pop meets prog rock. “The Illinois” features more epic guitar harmonizing before dropping back for the sentence or so of gang vocals and melody. Distorted guitars clash with wailing screeches of reverb as the rhythm section pounds back and forth to keep the frantic structure intact.
The rhythm section rumbles deep within your speakers on the Beach Boys reminiscent “Treeton,” complimenting the triumphant vocals that have become more prevalent here than previously on the album. There’s a stomping break down of Southern rock influence as the band enters into a massive jangly dash to the finish. Quite possibly the album’s most ambitious track, as well as its catchiest, “Davy Crockett” begins with an unusually somber atmosphere while harmonics gush from the keyboards. A choir of angelic “woah’s” lead into the wailing climb of the slow building guitars, as their rhythm section expertly pushes towards the climatic wall of sound. The vocals are actually about Davy Crockett, but what is exactly being said remains unclear to me. Drummer Marc St. Sauveur shows restraint throughout the longest track on the record, finally unleashing his time shifting fury as the song's tension is eventually released. “Welcome Wagon,” continues to impress as the three guitarists all play to different extremes, including flourishing solos, 8-bit angular tapping, and grungy distortion mixed together in perfect harmony. The song is heavy and unforgiving, while flourishing with brightness and loaded with optimistic qualities. The album closes with the psychedelic tinged organ of “Dorian”. The fireworks that kicked off the album return to finish it out, with a bang and an overbearing sense of celebration. It’s not without good cause however, as Fang Island have much to celebrate. Successfully combining the luster of indie pop music with the technical eccentricities of progressive rock is no small feat, but the band has proven to do it with style and grace.