Rock ‘n’ roll has an image disorder. Like, what the hell is modern rock? Should a frontman sing hard and rough anymore? Do solos need to sound like someone hit the guitar with a screwdriver to maintain relevancy? It’s fucking confusing. Some artists feel this deep-seeded need to reinvent the wheel, to dispel all truths about a certain genre. Chicago’s Filligar
shakes these “rules” off and instead keeps it simple: They play rock ‘n’ roll. On The Nerve
, the punchy quartet’s eighth studio album, they continue this trend and to agreeable results.
“Cat got your tongue,” Johnny Mathias asks early on during “Health”. Perhaps. Together, the four channel some balmy grooves, echoing early Blood, Sweat, and Tears, especially with their early morning harmonies and layered “highway rock” rhythm section. It’s tight, but oddly liberal. The group’s multi-instrumentalist Casey Gibson refuses to let the silence in. If he’s not at the organ, he’s at the piano, adding scales at a frantic pace. This jammy element keeps this sound fresh and separates it from, well, what you might find at your local corner bar. Lush instrumentation, but deserved.
Blame it on the family fare. Three-fourths of the group are siblings and it shows. Bassist Teddy Mathias and drummer Pete Mathias push their brother Johnny forward, throwing the proverbial bouncing ball that tugs and pulls at his soulful melodies. The brothers’ work, coupled with Gibson’s knack to fiddle about, keep this music engaging. This benefits the group, namely because the lyrics aren’t always quite there (“Architect”, “Ticket Line”). There are some high points – the visually fantastic “Slow Night at the Red Sea”, for example – but there are too many vague moments where Johnny sounds as if he’s barreling forward with a chip on his shoulder yet no clear target.
Though for an eighth album, Filligar sounds remarkably youthful, if not admirably fresh. Some might compare them to Kings of Leon, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but where the Followhill’s lack these days (e.g. convivial songwriting), Filligar excels. They know how to have fun, but they know when to get serious, too. On “Wild Nature”, Johnny chugs ahead and cuts loose, both lyrically and vocally, all while the others struggle to keep up (in a good way). It’s pretty cool. Now, if they focus on this sort of chemistry and leave tracks like “Ticket Line” in the notepads, then their ninth effort should really hit home. Still, for rock ‘n’ roll purists out there, The Nerve should suffice.