Fangs Out, “one of the hardest working bands in the Toledo[Ohio] area,” sounds like they’re trying to break out in the hardest way with their debut on Etxe Records, Speech Shadowing. Maybe they can even become the hardest working band in the Toledo area, or even in the whole of Ohio! Their brand of full-speed-ahead art-punk is engaging and fun, though definitely sloppy.
The duo of Samantha Wandtke and Mark Peterson’s live show is said to be pretty rough and tumble, the two musicians mixing and matching instruments to suit their needs at any given moment. This sort of edge-of-chaos fun shines in the angular sounds of their songs, rather than in any notable deficiency in musicianship. For example, the album’s opener, “Lustful”, features Wandtke taking lead vocals over an edgy, simple Futureheads-esque guitar riff and rollicking drums.
“Black Market” quickly follows in that same vein, sounding like they wanted to be a female fronted Gang of Four without a guitarist. This song is the first instance of the lyrics’ sometime awkward teenager-y insistance on having a message. “Everything you ever loved has a price tag” the duo intone as a chorus, reminding us that we live in a consumer society. Not that this is Propagandhi or anything, but the song is catchy and fun. However, the lyrics are too blunt to resonate much.
When the duo picks up a guitar, the lack of bass is unfortunate, as in “Factory Model”. Wandtke’s vocals are cool, jaunty, the drums and guitar loose and swinging, but the lack of low-end keeps the rhythm from being as driving as it could have been. “Lap of Luxury” is another message song about consumer culture. The bass and drum rhythm is energizing, purposeful, Wandtke’s vocals lithe, compelling, but the lyrics distract. The polyphonic use of the bass just under one minute in is a cool flourish on the post-punk aesthetic, one that pops up from time to time in the tune.
The interlocking drum and guitar rhythm at the beginning of “Unipolar” swings in and out of place. Wandtke’s vocals fall into a familiar cadence, this time guitar and bass playing off of each other melodically as always, this time partnered together instead of relying on one or the other. The vocal style is definitely on the dramatic end of the scale, Wandtke’s own voice adding big backing harmonies to herself, at times fitting perfectly, other times adding too much drama to the fun of the music. Where the instrumentation has swagger and panache, the vocals rely on arch emotion and posture.
“Polished Place” features a serious dance-punk riff and rhythm, the bass slinking up and down the range. Wandtke doesn’t have her copy/shadow in full force this time and it’s much to the band’s benefit. Adding layers of vocals doesn’t fit the simple, fun, ramshackle style that the music so adeptly pulls off. There’s typically one guitar or one bass, maybe both. Because of this, the ease and crush of “Polished Place” makes it one of the album’s best tracks.
Anti-governmental corruption “Politcouture” follows, its noddable rhythm intriguing and easy to dance to. “Heat” comes next, slowing the tempo down, a cool change of pace. The tune is smooth, slick even, while Wandtke’s vocals are smoky and agile. Again, the lack of overdubbing is a boon rather than a sign of oversimplifying. The same is too for album closer “Don’t Wake the Dead”, a limber song that charges forward under Wandtke’s vocal direction.
In the end, the simpler Fangs Out get, the better the result. The forced political and social messages and the overly dramatic layered vocals inhibit the fun, driving musical direction. The juxtaposition of the easy going music and strictly conceived vocals seem to betray an uncertainty in the band’s direction, one that makes both halves suffer. For every loose “Polished Place” there’s the melodrama of “Unipolar”. While the messages may hit home for some listeners, they certainly sit awkwardly for this one.