Since the release of their self-titled debut in early 2013, FIDLAR have been steadily making a name for themselves in the skate punk scene with their messy, beer fuelled, garage rock sound. Where their earlier projects seem firmly entrenched in this scene, their latest offering Almost Free sees the California band branch out, merging genres with varying results.
Nowhere is this Frankenstein fusion clearer than on the opening track ‘Get Off My Rock’, with Beastie Boys-esque drums, aggressive vocals and thudding riffs working alongside slide guitar, dogs barking, hip hop scratches and harmonica loops. It really shouldn’t work but somehow it manages to. It’s this sort of garage punk weirdness that makes the album such an oddity, whether the band are trying their hand at ska pop on ‘Be Myself’, hardcore on ‘Nuke’, blues rock on ‘Flake’ or doing their best Weezer impression on ‘Good Times Are Over’. Influences are drawn from everywhere and messily blended together with all the enthusiasm of hyperactive child with a Nutri-bullet. It’s a chaotic cut-and-shut of an album that could only have been put together by musicians who were either incredibly confident or incredibly high.
In this case it was both.
This is not to say that the band have completely ditched their garage rock roots in an effort to do the musical equivalent of the film Split. The best tracks (‘Alcohol’ and ‘Get Off My Rock’) adhere to the band’s winning formula of grainy riffs, chaotic drumming and angrily shouting about cigarettes and cheap beer.
There are, however, worrying moments that seem like the band was drinking paint thinner rather than Budweiser. There’s an irritating, self-satisfied smugness to ‘Scam Likely’, ‘Called You Twice’ and ‘Good Times Are Over’ that’s a far cry from the raw punk ethos of the band’s earlier work. This unapologetic pop cheese comes to a pungent climax with ‘By Myself’ which sounds uncomfortably reminiscent of Smash Mouth in all the wrong ways. It’s ironic that on ‘Almost Free’, FIDLAR seem desperately trapped by pop sensibilities and cliché. The obnoxious production, courtesy of pop producer Ricky Reed, also seems clinical and sterile with all the charm and individuality of a hospital ward. Without the authentic fuzz, feedback and crackle from past projects the album seems too tame, too docile and too mundane. It’s like the snarling dog of the first two albums has been neutered and made to wear one of those embarrassing plastic cones around its head.
That’s the annoying thing about this project, there are elements of a good album scattered across the tracklist but they’ve been clumsily glued to naff offcuts with all the precision of a primary school art project. At times there are fleeting glimpses of the lager-soaked stoner charisma that made FIDLAR’s early records so enjoyable but unfortunately it’s diluted to the point of dreariness.