“Fuck it dog, life’s a risk.” Apparently skaters say this before flying off ramps and speeding down halfpipes. It’s how they rationalize breaking limbs and wracking their genitals on metal railings.
The setting: Los Angeles. Four burnout skaters start a punk band. They adopt the aforementioned adage as their band name, abbreviating it FIDLAR. But these guys take it to a whole ‘nother level, applying “FIDLAR” to every facet of their daily lives: drugs, beer, punk rock, women, drugs, skating, punk rock, beer, drugs. That’s FIDLAR. Ostensibly, they don’t give two shits about anything else.
“Getting fucked up on the 101 / Shooting narcotics and having fun / 40 beers later and a line of speed / Eight-ball of blow and a half-a-pound of weed…” This is the first verse of opening track “Cheap Beer”, which is followed by a chanted chorus of “I! Drink! Cheap! Beer! So! What! Fuck! You!” It’s an instant anthem, driven by spry surf guitars and a complete disregard for authority. In the postmodern world, it’s almost reflexive for us to question the authenticity of a band like FIDLAR. Are they actually this ridiculously crazy, or are they just exaggerating, pretending — living out some wannabe-Dead Kennedys fantasy?
No, they’re actually like this, spending what little money they have on intoxicants, skate decks, and studio time. On a hidden track at the end of the album, singer/guitarist Zac Carper admits to living out of his car and pissing in water bottles. It’s kinda sad, really. But man, does this lifestyle breed some great rock ‘n’ roll.
As my CoS colleague Chris Coplan mentioned in an earlier review, there is an overabundance of garage/punk acts making music right now. Eventually, all the power chords, shouted vocals, and beer-stained band shirts start blending into one another. How does such a group set itself apart? FIDLAR touts its overwhelming sleaziness, but shocking subject matter alone won’t win over listeners. It’s about the songs, and that’s why this L.A. quartet succeeds. Of the 14 tracks here, 85% of them contain searing hooks that’re both passionate and catchy; after one or two listens, you’ll have them memorized, and you’ll be howling right along with Carper and co-frontman Elvis Kuehn.
FIDLAR’s arrangements alternate between Agent Orange-inspired surf punk (“White on White”), shambling blues (“Whore”), and jangly power-pop (“Gimmie Something”). Unlike some of their sloppier contemporaries and inevitable comparisons — Wavves and Black Lips, particularly — FIDLAR sound tight and practiced. Max Kuehn hits his drums with fluid precision while maintaining aggressive tempos, and Elvis Kuehn (they’re brothers) and Carper wield incendiary guitar riffage. For being wasted all the time, they’re quite competent musically. (And even better live. When I saw them, they sprinted through the whole album, playing every song in double-time. They got a crowd of eight people to mosh).
But the crux of why FIDLAR’s debut is so remarkable isn’t because of its shock value or rebellious attitude. One can also pick out lyrical snippets and quotes from interviews that illustrate a self-awareness about the band, a sense that they know there will eventually be consequences to their destructive behavior. On “No Waves”, when Carper sings, “I feel, feel like a cokehead / I feel, feel like I can’t get drunk no more ‘cause I’m on the floor,” he almost sounds remorseful. Almost. Then it’s back to the drinking, skating, and fucking.
Biology dictates that the part of the brain that comprehends long-term consequences isn’t fully developed until we reach our mid-20s. The members of FIDLAR are still young enough for us to wonder what their parents think about these songs — songs teeming with juvenile energy, songs fueled by raunchy hedonism, songs so depraved that Chuck Bukowski would shake his head in disgust. These characteristics are why FIDLAR’s self-titled debut is one of the sleaziest (and catchiest) punk rock records in recent memory. Let’s just hope the band doesn’t OD before it can release a follow-up.
Essential Tracks: “Cheap Beer”, “White on White”, and “Cocaine”
Feature artwork by Drew Litowitz: