Sound — 6
With numerous bands having already shaped the current wave of American garage punk revival years ago - from East-coasters like Jay Reatard and The Black Lips to West-coasters like Thee Oh Sees and Wavves - FIDLAR's recent arrival to this particular indie punk scene already provided them a surefire template to work with. With their 2013 debut self-titled album being a straightforward emulation (or homage) of the drug-addled snottiness of Nathan Williams combined with hints of classic rock in similar practice as The Black Lips, FIDLAR aspired not to make a unique mark in their genre right out of the gate, but rather, prove that they could rock just as hard as the contemporary punk bands they looked up to. And with the band having gone on tour with both The Black Lips and Wavves, it's safe to say they've been approved.
With their step of establishment already taken, FIDLAR broaden their horizons on their follow-up album, "Too." While the general Wavves-inspired indie punk still acts as a base (with a noticeable increase in instrumental skill found in bassist Brandon Schwartzel and drummer Max Kuehn's performances), the band add several different splashes of variance to their concoctions - from the post-rock drone guitar layers in "Leave Me Alone" and the fuzzy psychedelic guitar solo in "Why Generation," to the overdriven guitar leads in "Hey Johnny" evoking the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and the synth woodwind melody in "40oz. on Repeat" that sounds oddly similar to that in the outro of the Does It Offend You, Yeah? song "John Hurt."
This expansion isn't just only an effort to expand their sonic repertoire, but it's also an effort for the band to mature from their freshman stage of frenetic, high-geared, sans nuance punk. More efforts for slower-going songs and elaborate progressions are made, as well as frontman Zac Carper trying out a tamer and pensive singing voice, which can be heard in the Smashing Pumpkins-ish soft guitar intro of "Bad Habits" and the Weezer-brand alt-rock of "Stupid Decisions," but the sparse "Overdose" limps along with a single thin guitar riff and patchy peripheral instruments, lastly parlaying into a loud post-hardcore outro for a too-little-too-late crest.
However, the glaring problem in the grand scheme of the sound of "Too" is a fumbling of juxtaposing demeanors, both wanting to mature and to continue being the irreverent, uncouth punks they were in "FIDLAR" - which is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situation that doesn't shake out neatly. Whereas the aforementioned slower songs of the album are efforts of FIDLAR trying to mature, they dive in the opposite direction in the more sardonic punk cuts, like the whiny alcoholic angst of "40oz. on Repeat," the overblown mockery of blues rock revival in "Punks," and the "Institutionalized"-style ranting vocals of "Sober." Alone, FIDLAR's continued indulgence in their snotty disposition isn't an issue, but when it's pulling in the opposite direction of the band's initiative to be more mature, it makes the sound of "Too" feel dizzying and unstable.
Lyrics — 8
Parallel to the signs of maturing in FIDLAR's sound, Carper's lyrics have substantially grown from the laconic and simple sneering of nihilistic, drug-immersed living in southern California that near exclusively made up "FIDLAR." Some songs do repeat the same formulaic stories of getting high that were heard in their first album ("West Coast" reads like a combination of "Cheap Beer" and "Stoked and Broke"), but Carper's now reached a point in his life, and his music, where he feels the need to explore the whys of his substance abuse rather than telling all of the jocular stories he has of getting fucked up. The epiphanies he makes throughout the album can at times be clichéd (like "And I don't care at all, I'll drink some alcohol / It'll make me who I really wanna be" in "40oz. on Repeat" and "'Cos I drink until I'm mad / And I love being sad / Oh my god, I'm becoming my dad" in "Bad Habits"), but he does a decent job unraveling why he chases his perpetual highs and understanding the lows that it results in with a rough sincerity, as heard in his portrayal of suffering from withdrawals and worrying about overdosing in "Overdose," his eulogy for his former girlfriend who died of an overdose in "Stupid Decisions," and in the revealing line of his fear of shameful mortality ("And do you really think that I wanna be that guy / That dies without any friends?") in "Bad Habits." If the lyrics in their debut album were a simple dim sum of illicit substances, the lyrics in "Too" are the agonizing moments of detox afterwards.
Overall Impression — 7
Showing more ambition on numerous fronts, "Too" manages to be a more varied and mature album than its predecessor, and duly results in being an even messier album than the raw garage simplicity of "FIDLAR." But perhaps most profoundly, the conflicting and stumbling aspects of FIDLAR trying to mature in sound while also trying to stay in the familiar territory of indie punk go hand in hand with Carper's ongoing struggle with drugs; it's an attempt to change things for the better, but with bad habits dying hard, there's a lot to be sussed out before things actually start working better. With that grand scheme in mind, "Too" may be a mess, but it's an admirable one.