Fidlar – Too (LP)

What is it about punk rock which lends itself to vinyl recordings so effectively? To be fair, Fidlar‘s sophomore album, Too, also sounded good on CD, but those who have heard both and have to choose won’t be able to deny that vinyl is the ideal medium for this release. On CD, the music is mastered too high and too far forward which can make the mix feel claustrophobic and stifling, but the mix feels a whole lot more open on vinyl. The difference is really important because the music feels more spread out and it gives listeners a chance to breathe a bit without feeling as though they’re going to get hit in the face at any moment. Rather, the mix allows listeners to get into the songs a little and feel the texture there rather than being battered by it.

While it might not be the single most cut-and-dry, easy-to-explain difference in the world, listeners will instantly understand the moment “40 oz. On Repeat” blows the A-side of the album wide open. There, everything that fans and critics have praised the band for is lined up and checked off as if from some phenomenal list: Zac Carper sums up the band’s deep and sharp sarcastic bite as he crosses vitriolic lines like “And I don’t care at all, I’ll drink some alcohol/ I’ll make me who I really wanna be/ But I’m that kind of special person that drinks too much/ ‘Cause nobody understands me” while bassist Brandon Schwartel, guitarist Elvis Kuehn and drummer Max Kuehn split their time between playing gleefully and maliciously around lines like “I’m gonna lock myself inside my room, with this 40oz. on repeat|peat|peat|peat|peat|peat|peat|peat|peat [the idea that the song is skipping on vinyl feels so much more satisfying than it does on CD –ed] and do it all with such tight, silly style that it’s better than easy to adore. Simply said, “40oz. On Repeat” amplifies the snotty hard feelings of every listener’s youth and coaxes them out for air beautifully.

…And while Too goes in a couple of other stylistic directions on this A-side, the stream of snot is never totally stemmed along the way. “Punks” follows “40oz. On Repeat” and finds Cooper fighting the fire he started in the previous track with vocal napalm while Kuehn follows suit on his guitar before everyone pauses to speed through “Est Coast” – the closest thing they’ve ever done to a song you’d expect to hear in a soda commercial – before resuming the snotty parade with “Why Generation” and then re-enacting a relationship argument that most everyone has had but had never laughed at before now in “Sober.” Each of these songs is a work of angry, frustrated and fucking hilarious brilliance; in each case, Fidlar really only keeps the essential authoritative elements of their sound (each is big, rude, loud and frustrated but with no will to take any of what the band is addressing seriously at all) and twists and contorts the rest so that none of the songs plays exactly the same way. In that particular regard, the A-side of Too is shockingly ambitious.

Too’s B-side doesn’t dramatically shift gears, but Fidlar does manage to work in some attempts to address social and societal issues which is both surprising and pretty arresting, but that the results play as well as they do is even more so. On “Drone,” for example, Fidlar plays catbird and attempts to sound like every Ramones-inspired punk band to come out of the class of 1995 WHILE ALSO openly mocking/criticizing the desire to conform into a single mass that most teenagers share (some say “I’m an individual – just like all my friends,” Fidlar just says “I wanna be a drone”) before setting their sights on drug culture with mock-stoned disdain in “Overdose.” In the grand tradition of bands like Dead Kennedys Jidlar doesn’t come right out and SAY these songs are all baleful social commentary, they just bank on their audience being smart enough to have a clue about what they’re trying to do here. That doesn’t necessarily mean it always works flawlessly (“Hey Johnny” is a little too jarring and thematically vague for its own good while “Stupid Decisions” just languishes as the band’s energy bottoms out), but it works often enough that listeners will remain engaged until they’re able to get a few great kicks through “Bad Medicine” and “Bad Habits” to close out both the side and the album.

At its close, those who have gone front to back will find to their delight that Too didn’t overrun them or drain them [the total run-time between the sides is slightly less than forty minutes –ed] but did leave them both satisfied and energized all at once. That’s the beauty of this LP; it hooks listeners early and drags them through some really high-energy songs, but doesn’t leave them (or itself) all used up in the end. It’s pretty great – no sense of the dreaded sophomore slump can be found here.

(Dine Alone/Wichita/Mom + Pop)

Further Reading:

Ground Control Magazine – Fidlar – Too – [CD review]

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.

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