This album had me at hello. ”All i know I learned in Kindergarten! shouted over epic piano arpeggios and smooth sky-high guitar leads? Shit. As an elementary music teacher, nothing has ever expressed on such a animalistic level both my thoughts about the importance of early education and rock music in one four-minute chunk.
Fang Island have been compared to Andrew W.K. before, but it’s an apt comparison that deserves repeating. Where A.W.K. screams, Fang Island lets their guitars do the screaming. They keep their vocals almost…twee? It’s crazy that it even works. Where A.W.K. has “party” in every song title, Fang Island has tracks called “Kindergarten”, “Sisterly” and “Victorinian.” I don’t even know what that last one means, but surely it’s not about puking. I bet the only thing they’re getting wet with is their own sweat from rocking so fucking hard, or perhaps with blood dripping from the fingertips of their left hands.
Major is the Providence/Brooklyn trio’s sophomore release, and while their self-titled debut was kickass, this manages to improve upon it. The vocals are hotter in the mix, but still only as hot as the main guitar lead. So vox and guitars share the sonic space this time, whereas before the guitars and synths did most of the heavy lifting. The lyrics are kept simple, to allow for as many massive crowd singalongs possible. Killer track “Make Me” is one of the few on the record to utilize honest-to-goodness verses. The drums are everything you’d want them to be: hard-hitting yet intricate, complex without getting showy. Everything about Fang Island is boiled down to subtract any heady or deep bullshit while letting the pure musical joy shine through. As they’ve said themselves, their songs sounds like “everyone high-fiving everyone” and I couldn’t think of a more eloquent way to put it. The album’s first single “Sisterly” makes me want to high-five my sister.
Songs like “Seek It Out” showcase these shredders’ abilities to use tons of pedals and fancy-shmancy playing techniques for good rather than evil. Wha pedals typically make your average music listener think of reggae or porn soundtracks. Fang Island utilize them perfectly to build the opening chord rhythm from a bassy rumble to a noisy treble onslaught in the course of eight measures. Later in the same song, you get well-placed pinch harmonics; no need to flood the song with them like you’re Coheed or something. The song also shows their ability to sidestep overused rock riff staples by using unique rhythms. For example, on “Seek It Out” they avoid the downbeat at places where you’d think they would hit them the hardest, instead hesitating that brief moment to land on the “and” of beat one. Fellow music nerds such as these dudes and myself know exactly what I’m talking about. And the shredding, children! They tend to avoid Van Halen “meet me in the dressing room after the set” showiness, but they do pull off some crazy double-tapping towards the end of “Chompers” that layers on harmonies until you just cream your jeans at the key change. Even when they’re just playing chords, it’s incredible. “Asunder” ends on such a headbanging tear that you’d think the album couldn’t continue from there. And yet, they continue right into “Dooney Rock”, an instrumental in the vein of their first album; a metalhead’s version of a hoedown. Super fast, super toe-tapping, yet features acoustic guitars throughout most of the track.
If another band attempted to be this “epic” throughout an entire album, it would get tiring. But Fang Island are so good at “epic” that they can do it slow (“Chime Out”) or even quiet (the acoustic breakdown on “Sisterly”). They are always conscious to let your ears/brains/fists take a break from the workout now and then. The album opens with the slower, piano-built “Kindergarten” and closes appropriately with a chill-out song–“Victorinian”–consisting solely of organ and pianos. They play the pianos like they were shredding guitars, but it still counts.
Expertly timed to be released smack-dab in the middle of one hell of a blazing summer, if Major isn’t the soundtrack to your BBQs and pool parties, you’re doing summer wrong.