Review: Fang Island – S/T

Fang Island by Fang Island (2010, Sargent House)

It’s only fitting that Fang Island’s debut begins with the sound of fireworks; they are very aware their music goes hand in hand with a kick-ass Fourth of July shindig.  One could imagine if these guys ever rocked Milton Keynes, the sky explosions would last throughout their set, rather than begin immediately after.  Such is the mood throughout this half-hour disc – a relentless, all-American, fist-pumping party.

The Providence quintet has had a busy year.  They packed up and moved to Brooklyn, provided the soundtrack to a few MTV promos, received high-profile praise thanks to a well-received stint at SXSW, and opened for a little band called the Flaming Lips.  The boys are certainly on their way, and it’s a cause for celebration.  Luckily, the perfect soundtrack is one they themselves composed.

At first, it sounds like there are a million people in this band – “Dream of Dreams” opens the album with an ensemble of guitar patterns and an electronic organ.  Then, in a “Carry On Wayward Son” fashion, a slew of vocals infiltrate with an instantly memorable statement – “they are all within my reach.” A sudden burst of sonic guitar wails and complicated drumming later, and we’ve landed into “Careful Crossers,” probably the best example of Fang Island’s prog tendencies.

Most of the time, the group lets their instruments do the talking for them.  When they have something to say, it is rare and vital – and it is belted with an Avett Brothers fervor, even if the words are undecipherable or even just nonsense, as in “Daisy.”  Whatever the thesis, the delivery is captivating on the spot, and the surrounding score never bores.  “Life Coach” begins with a stomp similar to They Might Be Giants’ “Ana Ng” before slowly building to a sustaining, dramatic “Yeah!”

“Sideswiper” is a roller coaster of stop-and-start tempo – an homage to several eras of classic rock all at once.  What initially sounds like a Steve Vai circle jerk morphs into an acoustic strum reminiscent of Supertramp.  These guys know how to noodle with the best, but unlike the virtuosos before them, Fang Island actually take you somewhere.

“Treeton” has the signature shredding and hammer-on technique, but underneath we discover musicality akin to AC Newman, Bob Mould, and upbeat Colin Meloy.  A coating of guitar chops and thunderous snare hits give a general indie pop refrain some balls, and “Davey Crockett” reveals a softer side, all while keeping with the un-inhibited semblance of the album. “Welcome Wagon” drives the point home, grandiose and fucking loud.

Not since Andrew WK’s seminal I Get Wet has an album been so simultaneously confrontational, fun, optimistic, honest, and downright intelligent.  Fang Island’s debut has a surprise arrangement at every turn, complete with unapproachable talent and calculated songwriting.  Collectively, the tracks boast a quiet-to-aggressive product that is part marching brigade, part football stadium rock, part calculus homework, and entirely worthy of impairing your hearing over and over again.

Rating: 8

Fang Island – Treeton

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