I’m not going to lie. If it weren’t for the “Best New Music” tag placed on Fang Island’s self-titled debut by Pitchfork, I seriously doubt I would have ever come across this album. I don’t want to dwell on this fact too much, but it is remarkable how Pitchfork is spoken of as practically tabloid literature by non-Pitchfork employees, yet still read religiously by all of us serious music fans. Why do we bother? Well, way more often than not, they are, especially when they like something a lot. Think of just the past few years: Japandroids, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The xx, jj, The Very Best. Maybe these bands would have broken through without Pitchfork, but I know why I first heard them and I am pretty damn thankful someone exposed me to them (let’s not even mention the Arcade Fire). Sure I don’t dig Local Natives and according to their ratings, Wilco’s worst album is A Ghost Is Born, but for the most part they have credentials to back up their dogmatic reputation. (On a complete side-note, a game I like to play is guess the rating before anyone has heard the album. I’ll start: Best Coast: 8.5, Here We Go Magic: 8.3, Broken Social Scene: 9.2, The Hold Steady: 6.5 in an unfortunate straying from their reputation for epic albums).
So, that being said, is Fang Island worthy of your unexpected attention? Damn right it is. If I were allowed to write a one-word review, it would read: Exhuberant. Trust me, you know you have heard this kind of enthusiasm before and it always comes across as special. Think The Unicorns, The Go! Team, or Andrew W.K. Fang Island come across a notch above enthusiastic, inspiring images of someone carrying the Olympic torch up a mountain, planes landing in Top Gun, a badass fatality in a Mortal Kombat tournament, a party montage that involves lots a beer spilling and men hugging each other. Another more-current touchstone I was reminded of was Free Energy. I can’t think of a better soundtrack to the upcoming barbeque season than these two bands.
The individual songs on the 10-song set aren’t hard to differentiate, but they are around 80% instrumental with not much variation on guitar tone or overall aesthetic. The guitar sound can best be described as the Top Gun-theme effect. Not Kenny Loggins, but the solo guitar jam. When the vocals chime in, Animal Collective is written in bold letters across every note they utter. But, luckily in 2010, it is still okay to sound like Animal Collective, but up-and-coming bands should watch out becuase this shit is going to get old. 2010 is going to be the last year for being overly influenced by Animal Collective, I’m going to declare it right now. Fang Island’s brand of Animal Collective? Mix it with Celtic melodies and play like your hands are on fire. And have way more fun. I mean, your band is called Fang fucking Island. Damn right you know how to throw a party.
There isn’t a throwaway inclusion on the rapid-fire set, with even the deconstructive closing track, “Dorian”, using sounds similar to tape burning, like the feverish playing was too much for the recording studio causing the equipment to smolder. The baddest of the bad? “Sideswiper”. It’s basically a victory lap turned audio; an instrumental high five. But, that could honestly be said about the collection as a whole. Tracks ”Daisy” and “Treeton” would serve as centerpieces to play for people with short attention spans, mostly because they feature the most vocals, and though I wouldn’t call it catchy, they are accessible and melodic, just not really something you are going to hum around the yard while you work on a Saturday afternoon.
So hand it to Pitchfork, another good call in a long history of good calls. I’ve always claimed that they take music more seriously than anyone (for now! here we come!), and that’s why their opinion is worth listening to, whether you are agreeing with it or fighting it to the bitter end. But Fang Island would be rad with or without them and I like to believe that if Pitchfork hadn’t given them prime-location props, they would still find an audience. Good music finds a way to be heard. Right? <crickets chirp>