Critical Voices: Fang Island, Fang Island

March 25, 2010

According to Jason Bartell, one of Brooklyn-based Fang Island’s guitarists, the group’s goal is to “make music for people who like music.” Chances are, if you’re reading a music review in Georgetown’s left-leaning, arts-championing newsmagazine of record, you’re one of those people. And you’ll be happy to know that Bartell wasn’t kidding—Fang Island’s self-titled debut is like one big celebration. It’s raucous, inventive, and a ton of fun.

Fang Island is a blueprint for how to do bombastic rock right. There are layers of guitars and extended solos galore, accompanied by crazy drum fills and loud crescendos. But the band wisely avoids many of the pitfalls of arena rock—the cheese, the balladry, the “hey, while we slow down, take a look at how gratuitous we can be” moments. They avoid those moments because they rarely slow down, pummeling through ten tracks in just over a half hour.

Although they might not break for air too often, they do know how to build into their frenetic jams. Opener “Dream of Dreams” starts with some crackling noises, then gives way to what sounds like a Ratatat track without their signature beats. Soon afterward, infectious vocal harmonies take over and lead into the instrumental “Careful Crossers,” one of the album’s more rhythmically interesting tracks. Like everything else on the album the song is relentlessly happy, full of catchy hooks, and short on introspection and surprises.

The album’s third track, “Daisy,” with its chanting vocals, rollicking drums, and progressive structure, is another highlight. But because the collection is so rushed, its songs so energetic and driven, it’s an exhausting listen, even just at a half hour. Occasionally, it seems like Fang Island is out of ideas. “The Illinois” sounds like a less masterful version of “Daisy,” and “Treeton” is surprisingly lacking in catchiness. When the band finally slows down at the album’s end with “Davy Crockett,” its gradual build proves a blessing, providing much-needed catharsis and a bit of new direction.

As much as it pains me to admit it, I like some of the cheesiest, most lyrically cringe-worthy hard rock around. Fang Island is like that, but without the cheese.

Voice’s Choices: “Careful Crossers,” “Daisy,” “Davy Crockett”

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