Album Review: FIDLAR – Too

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FIDLAR is an acronym for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk,” a phrase you might stumble upon at the local skate park or in the back seat of a car as the driver passes back a tall boy of malt liquor and asks you to parcel out another line of speed. The appeal of FIDLAR is self-evident: It’s a battle cry for those bored to death by life, a shot of false courage that takes the place of “no.” It’s also the name of one of Southern California’s most hyped punk bands, a foursome of reckless 20-somethings who can’t seem to decide whether they’re thrilled or bored most of the time.

This tension is what fueled FIDLAR’s self-titled debut, whose subject matter drifted from sleazy rock ‘n’ roll fantasy to suburban ennui without skipping a beat. It’s also what makes FIDLAR a more interesting band than 99% of their contemporaries in the garage punk scene, most of which are content to wrap themselves in a blanket of reverb, pizza, and standard-issue hipster irony. Compared to those one-note chuckleheads, FIDLAR sounds downright volatile in their search for meaning, even if the artifacts they dig up on that search (beer, drugs, skateboards, etc.) are nothing new.

There’s something inherently contradictory, even comical, about trying to live a maxed-out life amid the sleepy suburban sprawl of Los Angeles. These aren’t the mean streets of New York City in the ‘70s, where scoring an eightball of blow was as easy as walking to the corner, but credit FIDLAR singer/guitarist Zac Carper for doing his best impression of Johnny Thunders and making us believe it. It helps that the band behind him (Brandon Schwartzel and brothers Max and Elvis Kuehn) favors tight riffs and jangly power pop melodies over the sloppy meandering so often associated with garage punk. They lend FIDLAR a swagger to go with their who-gives-a-shit worldview, which indeed would feel more at home in a dank, dark alley than in the shade of a California palm.

If the band’s second studio album, Too, seems more grown up than its predecessor, it’s not for lack of songs about getting fucked up and making questionable decisions. Rollicking opener and lead single “40oz. on Repeat” is basically a love letter to substance abuse, in which Carper deals with rejection and social anxiety the only way he knows how: “I’m gonna lock myself inside my room/ With this 40 ounce on repeat.” It’s a bleak message set to music that’s danceable and dynamic, and as such it’s a worthy introduction to an album that oscillates between hopeful and despairing. Despite a penchant for excess, FIDLAR never fully commits to one extreme, and the most interesting parts of Too come when the band struggles to contextualize the royal mess that is their lives. Is it worth celebrating? Lamenting? They never settle on one or the other, though the answer is likely a bit of both.

(Must-Read Cover Story: FIDLAR: Stupid Decisions by Danielle Bacher)

Take a song like “West Coast”: Arguably the album’s best track and a late-entry candidate for song of the summer, it’s an anthem in every sense of the word, replete with uplifting “ahhhs” and a mile-a-second travelogue of a road trip up the coast. Sure, the lyrics (“I’m so sick of this stupid place/ It’s so suburban and so boring”) are nothing to write home about, but the music imbues them with a sense of desperate urgency that most suburban kids will recognize. There’s even a kind of regret lurking in the background, as if the boys are on the verge of acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, they’re wasting their lives getting “coked up” and “cracked out.”

This is a persistent theme on the album. It emerges once again on the squiggly “Why Generation”, which sounds like Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ “Blank Generation” reimagined for 21st century ears. “All the kids wanna know/ Where do I belong, where do I go,” Elvis screams in earnest, though the song doesn’t add much meat to that well-chewed conversation. It’s followed by “Sober”, a misstep that wastes a catchy-as-hell chorus by sandwiching it between verses in which Carper adopts an awkward Valleyspeak inflection.

Even so, “Sober” may be the album’s clearest example of the tension that makes FIDLAR notable among their peers. Here is a band that’s never boring, even if all they seem to talk about is how bored they are. This might have to do with the diversity of their tastes. The bass-heavy intro of “Drone” recalls The Outcasts’ “Just Another Teenage Rebel” and would sound right at home on a Killed by Death compilation of first-wave punk, while the subdued “Overdose” could almost be mistaken for an Elliott Smith B-side (the band has actually covered Smith before).

All of these influences converge on closer “Bad Habits”, a five-and-a-half-minute stroll through a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy that’s part dream, part nightmare. In the span of just a couple of verses, “I’ve got my whole life to figure it out” becomes “Oh my God, I’m becoming my dad!” It’s a tongue-in-cheek admission that youth doesn’t last forever, even if it’s couched in defensive language.

It’s also the kind of thing you wouldn’t have heard on FIDLAR’s first album, but growing up will do that to you. The cracks are starting to show in the band’s fuck-all facade, allowing some moments of genuine pathos to slip in between the paeans to alcoholism and coked-up excess. Too feels like a transitional record, but it’s also as trashy and as thrashy as they come. Wherever FIDLAR goes from here, one thing’s for sure — they will not go gently into that good night.

Essential Tracks: “40oz. On Repeat”, “West Coast”, and “Bad Habits”