FIDLAR’s third album ‘Almost Free’ is an intriguing mélange of their idiosyncratic Californian skate punk, operatic horn sections, predictable Trump-era diatribes, and slide guitars. In short, it is an eclectic musical sandwich you’ll either gorge on or spit out – charming at best, and uneven at worst.
Anytime a musician or band ventures farther out than their marked territory, there is an element of risk involved. Shipwreck more than you land, and you might lose the confidence of the critics. Abandon your roots, and your fans might not want to sail on your ship anymore. On their most recent venture Almost Free, Zac Carper and his FIDLAR crew explore previously untapped (and unexpected) genres like funk, glam-rock, and 90’s rap. So far, reviews have been mixed, but when you’re trying to judge the work of a band whose name is an acronym for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk,” austere critical evaluation becomes something embarrassingly humorless and ill-suited.
Almost Free is no treasure chest of future classics,
but it is, without a doubt, the most fun 42 minutes of listening I have had in a while. After all, the best music is in the risks, and FIDLAR are all about them on their third effort.
Although some of Almost Free feels scattershot, there is a likability to the album that helps you push through its unbalanced detours. Instead of relying their expected musical quiver of distortion and disgruntled screaming, FIDLAR, to the benefit of their sound, plays with new musical influences, layering their knucklehead punk with the lighter, pop-driven instrumentation of harmonicas, horns, and ballad-rock piano melodies.
“Scam Likely” is one of those fearless gambles into new musical territory – it is a groovy orchestral banger that is a welcomed improvement on their last album’s Clash-inspired “Why Generation.” The brassy fun continues with the soul-stirring fanfare on the lyric-less ”Almost Free.” “Good Times Are Over” and “Thought. Mouth.” are above average pop-punk anthems, while “Alcohol,” set at a blistering pace, is FIDLAR’s bread-and-butter – mosh-pit worthy surfabilly served with a side of downtrodden, satirical lyricism. If you loved the Beastie Boys or Rage Against the Machine, “Get Off My Rock” is a solid homage to rap-rock that feels honest enough to avoid the “contrived” critique.
“By Myself,” the highlight of the album, is FIDLAR at their most ridiculous and creatively daring.
Absurd, goofy, and totally unconcerned with being punk, the peppy track is joyful chaos barely controlled. “I’m cracking one with the boys, by myself / Everybody says I need professional help,” Carper sings, strumming his acoustic guitar before the song blasts off into its carnivalesque chorus. The song is akin to what Carper dubs “the emotional speed ball. You have the upper and you have the downer. You have sad lyrics with happy sounding music.”
Sonically, “Kick” fails to compel with its melancholy slog of jarring distortion and airy guitar riffs. Although “Nuke” and “Too Real” are sonically bold, they feel overstuffed with one too many layers – these are disappointing moments where the FIDLAR’s experimental ethos starts to jeopardize the flow of the album.
But even when FIDLAR churns out middling tracks, they still sound endearingly hyped-up. You get the sense that FIDLAR isn’t taking themselves too seriously, having a blast every step of the way, and it comes through on every song – the snickers, bombastic energy, comedic mini-sketches, and field recordings all combine together to create a genuine portrait of four dudes messing around, jamming in the studio, doing them without any concern of conceited music journalists like me. Almost Free is an album undeniably born of good intentions and an bottomless confidence that will plaster a smile on anyone’s face. Despite a couple of sketchy instrumental twists and turns and messy lyrical choices, FIDLAR has created a dynamic, eclectic thirteen track rollercoaster that somehow holds together without totally falling off the rails.
Zac Carper has always found an uncanny satisfaction of living in the shadows.
In most FIDLAR songs, Carper is bruised, shivering in the corner yet laughing hysterically, spit flying everywhere, trying to make sense of his high and the inevitable comedown— that dismal fall back to Earth, only to repeat the same mistake, over and over again. On Almost Free, Carper, instead of chugging another beer to quell his shitty headache, takes a step back from his hedonism and reflects deeply, turning his attention not only to the aftermath he has created, but to that around him: white privilege, corporate greed, social polarity. Uncertain and skeptical as Carper is, he is rightfully worried about our future, especially when he starts to get a bit political on “Though. Mouth” and “Too Real.”
Carper’s sobriety seems to have only made the ex-party animal more pensive and mature, and this is a good thing for FIDLAR–– you can only sing about getting insanely wasted for so many albums. If you can, try to listen to Almost Free without lofty expectations for nuanced social commentary. After all, FIDLAR isn’t trying to make sense of all the confusion–– it is dancing through the pain and simply asks you to do the same.
Being free should be so simple and so easy, but none of us are really there – especially in a place like America.
Atwood Magazine spoke to frontman Zac Carper about touring, their new musical direction, and what the hell the FIDLAR boys have been up to these past three years.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH FIDLAR‘S ZAC CARPER
Atwood Magazine: It has been three years since your last release, Too. Other than touring and album-making, what have FIDLAR been up to?
Zac Carper: IT’S BEEN 3 YEARS!?! Wtf… time really flies. I guess it has been three years. honestly, majority of our time is spent on touring. We tour A LOT. We’re constantly jumping back and forth between the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia… but other than that, we’ve been trying to figure out how we take our next steps. The music industry has changed so much. It’s actually exciting. So we are trying to figure out different ways to release music. Also, most of my time is spent trying to find any sort of inspiration from things. Life and stuff. A lot of traveling and stories and mischief and mayhem. You know. The usual.
This entire album is pretty damn polemic. Granted, you were making this album in one of the most turbulent periods in recent American political history. How did that affect the writing process?
Carper: It definitely did. I don’t know if we knew that while we were in the process. It wasn’t only American politics. Every time we went to Europe, there were terrorist attacks. Every time we came back home from tour, there were shootings. It has been a rough couple years for the world. And we travel so much that it affects you in weird ways. I mean, seeing other things other than America is important. We realized that it’s just not America that’s going through some craziness; it’s everybody.
You guys have always had a philosophy of not giving a fuck – meaning that you say what you want to say, and you say it loud. If there is one main diatribe you want to be heard on Almost Free, what is that?
Carper: I guess the main thing is stop complaining about stuff and do something about it. That ties into the concept of the album as a whole. And the name Almost Free. Because being Free should be so simple and so easy. But none of us are really there. Especially in a place like America.
While this album is highly political, there is still an anthemic, uplifting tone braided throughout. Can you tell me more about that?
Carper: I call it the emotional speed ball. You have the upper and you have the downer. You have sad lyrics with happy sounding music. I love that shit.
Can you tell me about some of your influences for Almost Free?
Carper: I think it was a mix of all our different styles. We wanted to make an album that wasn’t just one sound in its entirety. All of us have our unique styles. Like, we could’ve done the guitars, bass, drums, vocals and that’s it, but we got bored. And it’s just fun to try new things out. We were listening to a lot of different genres. I think thats what’s tight about the music industry now. It’s all a mishmash of different genres.
:: stream Almost Free here ::
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