Album Review: FIDLAR – Almost Free

Image Courtesy of Brace Yourself PR

West-Coast punks FIDLAR first burst onto the scene knuckle-punch first with the exhilarating eponymous debut, which injected angst with an abundance of riffs and screeching. They followed it up with 2015’s Too, an album which explored a more vulnerable side to the band, such as frontman Zac Carper’s struggle with addiction and coming to terms with growing up. Album number three, Almost Free, moves into a surprisingly more mellow territory for a band whose name comes from the acronym ‘Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk’, and sees a band flirting with the components of genres beyond the ‘skate-punk’ they’ve been taglined with. Although, as the album artwork of a crashed car emblazoned with FIDLAR suggests, it’s still an album heavily focused on self-destruction and illicitness.

Almost Free’s opener ‘Get Off My Rock’ explodes into a cacophony of drones, barking dogs and Carper’s unmistakable yelp of “Fuck it, I need a cigarette”: even 6 years after their debut FIDLAR haven’t abandoned their vices. The bands openness to explore other timbres and genres is commendable to the hip-hop scratches that wouldn’t be out of place on a Beastie Boys track, or the country-blues tinged guitars.However, the interplay between these contrasting genres on the opener comes across as more jarring than progressive, though they have never been accustomed to subtlety.

‘Can’t You See’ slows the tempo down, exploring the capricable nature of life, as Carper explores a softer side to his vocals, singing “Last week, last week that was so last week, now I need a new thing.” It trades in rage for guitars which exult a blues-rock dejection, and pianos even interject the outro, an instrument that you never feel you’d be including in a FIDLAR review.

‘Be Myself’ and ‘Flake’ hit with the same vein of previous FIDLAR songs, where themes of substance abuse are used to numb the mundanity of life; “And my life is like a pill which is getting harder to swallow”. Rejecting the toxic masculinity Carper expresses “I didn’t know it felt good to cry.” You can’t help but feel that the whole angsty tortured soul act is starting to wear thin at the third album. Considering most of the band are well into their thirties it’s becoming tedious to hear the same themes regurgitated for the past six years; though what they do, they do well.

‘Alcohol’ is the standout as the ignition for chaos at live shows, showcasing their ability to create absolute anarchy. The ‘Cheap Beer’ of Almost Free, Carper’s vocals return to their raw and aggressive state, seemingly interjecting every fibre of rage into the song.’Alcohol’ contains some of the wittiest quips on the album “I take my Adderall with milk and sugar”, indicating the band have not lost the tongue-in-cheek boldness that gained them a cult following back in 2013.

A grooving instrumental of fuzzy guitar hooks, and Stones style horns permeate title track ‘Almost Free’, and continue through to ‘Scam Likely’ and sees the band delving into the crevices of classic rock. Lyrics such as “It’s a doggy dog world they all say” seem slightly cliche and lazy, leaving the tracks feeling very much like fillers.

“Called You Twice” is the anthemic and melancholic acoustic track of the album, featuring American singer-songwriter K.Flay, “I never meant to call you, but then I went and called you twice.” It’s surprisingly sentimental approach for a band that breathes expletives from its pores, but reveals that beneath the walls of rage and debauchery, there is heart. Carper explores the juxtaposed up and downs of relationships, whether it be love or metaphorical of addiction: “But baby when I saw you, I saw that we would crash and burn”.

“Too Real” has a Nine Inch Nails sentiment to it, in the panting and use of electronic sampling. It begins as a tirade on modern apathy with the line “Why the hell is everybody on their phone? Why is the answer to life on the fuckin’ phone?”. It’s a fair point, but one so blase it’s become almost meaningless.

‘Good Times Are Over’ is the penultimate and breakup track of the album. It has a pervading spirit of Weezer’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’ playing upon the shared communion of sadness and dejection from life. Again, it can’t help but be felt that their pessimistic adolescent rage is wearing thin for a band averaging around 30, as though without the debauchery of drugs and sadness they would be left without a subject matter to write on. Yet, they sure know how to construct an anthemic hook, giving the disillusioned among us something to screech along to.

Almost Free is (in classic FIDLAR style) more inconsistent and messier than the aftermath of a college house party; it seems like the test subject for the band’s experimentation to eventually move into a more progressive and consistent release, yet it perfuses with laziness. It draws from the vulnerability of Too and the raucous nihilism of the first too, but it’s blind self-indulgence refuses to let the band move forward into new territory.