Even at first sight – before a note of music is heard from the Means LP – those who happen upon Fews‘ debut full-length will get the sense that they’re about to bear witness to an important musical EVENT. The front cover poses a bunch of very tantalizing questions. On it, a camera captures a stolen frame of the band members with a brick wall as a backdrop. No one’s posing or mugging for the camera, it just looks like a moment in the band’s life. The setting is classic in that it recalls images of The Ramones in their early career as well as The Dead Boys and Husker Du at the beginning of their careers. It could be the alley behind any bar with a stage in the world, immortalized right before something remarkable happens and the guys in the photo change the world. For anyone with a sense of history, the excitement that Means inspires begins with the cover.
Okay, the above might sound a little unbelievable but, in the moment, the cover of Means really can spark “that” kind of interest and anticipation in those holding the album, and it’s pretty cool that it can happen before any music is heard. Even better, the music proves to live up to that anticipation after the stylus sinks into vinyl and the record begins to play. But that doesn’t mean everything about Means is all about instant gratification. In fact, Fews makes it clear right off that THEY are dictating how Means is going to play,
“I.D.” opens the album and listeners will begin to get chills spontaneously as singer-guitarist Fred and guitarist Dave [note: the band members have not released their full names as of this writing] begin stirring up a disconcerting, mid-tempo and mathy tempest while Rusty (the drummer) and Lulu (the bassist) pin down a spare but propulsive low end.
It’s pretty incredible how much energy and emotion Fews is capable of stirring up so early on Means – particularly given that listeners eventually discover that “I.D.” is an instrumental song – but it’s true and really inspires listeners to want to tread further into the album and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Listeners will discover that their curiosity goes well-rewarded after “I.D.” evaporates. “The Zoo” follows and immediately ensures that the tension set by “I.D.” stays high thanks to the song’s similarly mathy and sonorous machinations. But the game changes just a bit and gets a little more harrowing as Fred opens his mouth and begins to unload some intense, dark poetry.
Fews unload some intense dark poetry
The singer’s tone and melody aren’t the things which will throw chills through listeners. It’s more the singer’s detached delivery of the lyrics.
Here, Fred offers perfectly folksy tones through the verses, but then totally yelps out some fairly unintelligible syllables through the chorus before falling right back into that detached melody. It’ll throw anyone who hears it off the first time, guaranteed. But it’s also important to note that the song doesn’t suffer for it; listeners can easily begin to expect and appreciate it as the song continues. If anything betrays the fact that this early playing is both loaded with hooks as well as finely-honed and crafted arranging, it’s that.
While it would be understandable if the band laid up or coasted through the rest of the side before dropping one more bomb to close it and leave an impression, Fews doesn’t take that easy way out here. They cast a brilliant, sinewy spell through the lovely “The Queen” (Fred’s sighing, reoccurring “All I want is her” line cast against his lean but strong guitar part will steal hearts) and then brush very close to a Brit-pop-and-punky foil immediately thereafter in “10 Things” to close the side and leave hearts fluttering romantically.
Now, an argument could be made that “10 Things” is a poor place to end the side because because it doesn’t have a “big, explosive” tease that will have listeners fumbling with their turntables but, regardless, the romance of “10 Things” combined with the lean and nervous tenor of the song is a fine enough lede too. That end will still succour those who have gone top-to-bottom with the side to flip it and see what other delights the band has for them, and they’re not left wanting.
“100 Goosebumps” gently eases its way in to open Means‘ B-side first with a ghostly rhythm guitar figure before cranking up the speed unexpectedly to get heads spinning and bodies off balance again. After that, “Keep On Telling Myself” sees the band get introspective (the reoccurring “I keep on telling myself I’m understood/ I keep telling myself that we did good” couplet, coupled too with the lush sonics which build up behind Fred at about the two-minute mark make for a knee-buckling and gorgeous experience) before “Zlatan” gets positively flayed and desperate and “Ill” just sputters along dangerously and nervously to close out the album.
On a comparative scale to Means’ A-side, it could be argued that, because there isn’t a lot of deviation between the tempos of the songs on the B-side, the frenetic vibes which drove the A-side lose a bit of steam and don’t leave as great an impact on the B-die. But, upon repeated listens, one realizes that the B-side DOES make up for its lack of frenetic push with a build of drama and blind disaffection. Unlike on so many other albums, the gradual collapse of Means’ B-side is both hypnotic and fantastically engaging.
Even with all of those positive comments on the record though, it goes without saying that someone somewhere will question if Means holds up over time. It’s a valid enough question; while it has already been called a punk record, Means doesn’t try to pay lip service to most of the formulaic tenets typically associated with punk, and doesn’t bother allying with hardcore, indie or even something as vague as “the underground,” for that matter. Simply put, this album stands all on its own. It might sound a little trite, but that disinterest in generic terms might be the best point that the album has going for it outside of the music; it stands alone, can’t be lumped in with anything. That’s the kind of exciting thing which spawns all new cultural movements.