Chances are, if you were a college freshman at the beginning of the decade, drinking away the reality of student loan debt and limited postgrad job prospects, you probably had FIDLAR queued up somewhere on your Spotify playlist.
The band’s songs and videos reveled in self-loathing and druggy excess. Yet they always retained a clever, twisted sense of humor (see “Cheap Beer,” the “Cocaine” video) and, at times, even had something to say about the role of drugs in society (see the first “West Coast” video with Henry Rollins).
In other words, FIDLAR became the soundtrack of middle-class millennial self-sabotage by being so open about fucking up.
But FIDLAR isn’t as young as it used to be. Time has passed and members have since gotten clean. A band can only get so far on crazy stories. So with Almost Free, FIDLAR takes some of the opportunities for musical growth and experimentation that it missed out on with the last album, Too.
FIDLAR’s music typically gets labeled as “L.A. surfer punk.” While the group doesn’t abandon this subgenre on Almost Free, the new album shows there is plenty of room to wiggle within the band’s signature sound.
One of the most experimental songs on the album is the opener “Get Off My Rock,” an anti-gentrification anthem inspired by recent changes in L.A.’s Highland Park and Hawaii. Singer Zac Carper practically raps his rage through offbeat samples and drum-machine production that would fit neatly on a Beastie Boys track. The twanging guitar in the chorus adds a hint of mid-90s Beck to the mix.
At its core though, FIDLAR plays punk. Punk relies on snotty, attention-grabbing lyrics to skewer its subjects, and this album contains some of the group’s greatest hits:
“Meditate, you can get rich quick/Don’t talk, just ‘like’ my shit.” (“Can’t You See”).
“You’ve gone so far to the left/You ended up on the right./You’ve gone so far to the right/You don’t care if you’re right.” (“Too Real”).
“[You] Took your career and you put it up your nose.” (“Kick”).
This album is aiming at a few targets. Gentrification. Materialism. Disillusionment with the federal government. But as a relatively young punk band, the members are in a unique position to rant about the current state of communication. Anyone who’s grown up with a smartphone can relate to the friends who flake (“Flake”), the relationships ruined by text-message neglect (“Thought. Mouth.”) and the loneliness that comes with talking through a screen.
As with much of today’s most resonant music, Almost Free deals with the end of the world. Or at least, the sense of doom on this FIDLAR album extends beyond the personal. With this in mind, it’s actually quite fitting that the band has added horn arrangements to multiple songs, mimicking the seven trumpets heralding The Last Judgment.
“Too Real” attempts to address political divisions, income inequality and stale mainstream music, all on the same track. In the process, the song loses some of its power as an anthem of apocalypse by telling us what’s wrong, and not painting a picture to show us what’s wrong.
“Good Times Are Over” injects political undertones into a portrait of mental distress (“The good, good times are over/You should’ve told me last October/I guess I’ll go get sober again”). This type of song is exactly where the band thrives in 2019, at the intersection of individual desperation and universal chaos.
FIDLAR’s first fans are no longer freshmen; now, they’re hard-working, underpaid young adults. With the release of Almost Free, they finally have a new soundtrack to match the evolving angst of the “Why Generation.”
And the band, along with its maturing millennial supporters, is better off for it.
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