Album Review: FIDLAR is Almost Free

FIDLAR Almost Free album cover graffiti writing on a concrete block by a beach

For the most die-hard fans, FIDLAR – which stands for “Fuck it dog life’s a risk” – is a band, a motto and an ethos. Rather than become pigeonholed in skate punk for fear of disappointing fans, the Los Angeles four-piece has diversified their sound since their eponymous LP and hit single “Cheap Beer.” That’s what their latest album Almost Free is about. Frontman Zac Carper has said the album was influenced by the aesthetics of Soundcloud hip-hop, but opening track “Get Off My Rock” is more Beastie Boys than Lil Pump.

“Can’t You See” is a departure from FIDLAR’s usual sound with a piano solo and walking bass line, while the satire on materialism is in keeping with Carper’s lyrical style. “By Myself” also revisits a familiar subject – drinking that teeters toward self-destruction – with fresh percussive range.
“Too Real” is FIDLAR’s most explicitly political song. Carper howls, “Well, of course the government is going to fucking lie.” While much of Too (2015) focused on Carper’s struggle with addiction and sobriety, tracks like “Too Real” and the Clash-esque “Scam Likely” prove he can write as passionately about the political as he can the personal.

Parts of Almost Free retread familiar territory. “Alcohol” could fit on any FIDLAR album in sound and subject. Blistering forty second track “Nuke” has the intensity of underrated Too track, “Punks.”

“Called You Twice” is a surprise standout. Carper’s vocals meet their match in a duet with K.Flay about both sides of a messy breakup. It’s warm, vulnerable – the album’s emotional core.

While Almost Free is less consistent than its predecessors, the range it displays proves that FIDLAR is far from finished.

This article was originally published in BeatRoute Magazine.

Album Review: 26 by Birthday Bitch

26 is the second EP from Birthday Bitch, their first being a two track demo. The latest release from the Vancouver trio captures nuanced melodies that emerge alongside lo-fi guitar work.

Birthday Bitch’s sound varies across the four tracks of 26. Though each song differs from the next, all are in a style reminiscent of something I have heard before. On my first listen, I tried to put my finger on which bands Birthday Bitch evokes or which vocalists the singing of Dorothy Marshall brings to mind. To say that Birthday Bitch works in several reminiscent styles is not to suggest a lack of uniqueness. Instead, the similarities make their music all the more moving because their sound is recognizably evocative.

26’s opening track “Nocturne,” for instance, recalls the driving percussion and impassioned vocals of “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The dissonant guitar and pronounced bass on “Nocturne” are in contrast with Marshall’s shaded vocals. Softly melodic at the song’s start, her voice rises to match the heavy distortion of the chorus.

“Too Close,” on the other hand, builds slowly around Marshall’s whispered, breathy vocals. Hanna Fazio’s percussion and the mounting force of Shelby Vredik’s guitar make the track an instrumental standout. With a sultry sound that recalls Angelo Badalamenti’s score for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, “Too Close” could make an apt addition to a David Lynch film. Marshall’s vocals crescendo in shouts before “Too Close” fades into silence.

The slow burning sound on the EP’s first half is in contrast with the near-frantic pace of the latter half of 26. “Teeth” and “Harwitch” are more in keeping with sound of Birthday Bitch’s late 2016 demos. Marshall speak-sings on the chorus of “Teeth,” in a predominantly monotone style that differs from her breathy delivery on “Too Close.” Uptempo closing track “Harwitch” is danceable lo-fi rock that would make a well-received addition to a Birthday Bitch live show.

Though they have only released six songs so far, Birthday Bitch is already making music that stakes its claim within the West Coast lo-fi scene. While there is certainly a market for their upbeat tracks, they have the ability to make an impact with their moody, multifaceted brand of rock.

This review was originally published in the June  2017 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Album Review: February 29 by Liza

February 29 by Liza

The debut EP from Toronto-based R&B singer Liza is decidedly without winter’s chill.  Clocking in at 13 minutes, February 29 is an effective presentation of Liza’s warm vocals and her ability to move effortlessly through pitch perfect melodies. February 29 showcases her technical precision rather than her range, favouring simple arrangements sung with mastery. As a result, the production emphasizes her voice. Absent are heavy synths and bass drops, as there is no need to compensate for vocal shortcomings. Instead, the listener is left in intimate reach of Liza.

Album opener “Let You Know What” is a mellow piano and synth track about desire. Liza’s mellow vocals are at odds with the intensity of the language she uses to express this lust. “I’ve been fiending for you,” she sings smoothly, quite unlike a woman who is actually fiending for her lover. On “You,” she sounds her longing in scales, articulating desire through both her words and a mounting crescendo.

In contrast with the EP’s first two tracks, which focus on Liza’s feelings in relation to her would-be lover, “All Alone” is introspective. Synth-forward “All Alone” is the EP’s lyrical standout. On this track, Liza describes feeling alone in a crowded room by using the month of February as a metaphor for her loneliness. Though this moment is the only explicit reference to the EP’s title, Liza does not extend the metaphor. In the second half of the song, she relates this alienation to the pressures felt in school and at home: to do better and to meet the demands of others. Despite the song title, Liza is not alone in her feelings of isolation; “All Alone” is equally relatable and personal.

On the album outro “Ride,” Liza returns to the theme of desire from the EP’s opening tracks. But this time, she no longer seeks the lustful relationship she describes on “You;” instead, she seeks a relationship built upon the slow bloom of love. “Ride” is the most instrumentally complex track on the album. Its style differs from the other three tracks and their predominantly electronic production. Quiet guitars and layers of percussion float through the song. As the best showcase of Liza’s vocal range, “Ride” is a fitting outro to the EP.

With one EP under her belt, Liza is on her way to establishing herself as a highly regarded singer-songwriter. She writes with commendable frankness and honesty. However, her style is overly simplistically at times, which lessens the intimacy of her expression. Creative production and further development of her writing style will push her vocals even further and encourage a deeper connection between the artist and her listeners.

This review was originally published in the April 2017 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Song of the Day: Ride by Liza

OR Into the Black by Chromatics

Album Review: Co-op by Co-op

Co-op’s eponymous album opens a few drum beats from cacophony. At its outset, the dissonance in “What Is Said” is jarring. However, subsequent iterations of the refrain reveal a surprising tunefulness amid the instrumental discord. For all the tonal variation between the refrain and verses, the song is surprisingly cohesive with greater depth than the cacophony I first heard. Co-op is a complex and engaging album — all the more because its depth isn’t fully revealed on first listen.

On Co-op, the three-piece post-punk band out of Vancouver plays with discordant sounds that make for an intriguingly incongruent first listen. Evan Gray’s monotone vocals are indistinct throughout the album, echoing behind his guitar and Liam Shiveral’s bass. For lack of distinct vocal verses and choruses, the album’s progress is marked by its instrumental patterns and variations.

The band is at their best when they deviate from the pattern at the core of their songs. The plodding pace and off-note melody of “Dont Turn the Page” is disrupted by tighter guitar and accelerated drumming from Stefen Ursulan. The shift in the song’s final minute makes the rhythmic regularity that surrounds it all the more interesting. “Golden Hand” is structurally similar to “Dont Turn the Page,” albeit not so atonal. The song moves between minimalist guitar and bass sequences and darkly melodic choruses, all the while accompanied by Gray’s distant vocals and his bandmates’ quiet harmonization.

“The Last Time” is the quintessential Co-op track. The band is at its most instrumentally cohesive, guided by Shiveral’s steady bass. Gray’s unaccompanied voice and guitar make exchanges before he launches into some of his most impressive guitar work on the album. Only the guitar on “No Witness” is more distinct, with heavy distortion spiraling through the track.

Despite its EP runtime, Co-op has the depth of a realized album. On the whole, the album is a sum of disparate elements that come together in unexpected harmony. Co-op is a testament to the strength of the burgeoning post-punk scene in Vancouver, as well as to the intricacy of the releases coming out of the city’s independent music scene.

Song of the Day: What I Said by Co-op

This review was originally published in the December 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Album Review: Brevner EP by Brevner

Brevner – EP by Brevner — “All We Know”

The opening track on Brevner, “Chico,” samples dialogue from Scarface. Tony Montana explains to his companion Chico what he wants: “The world, Chico, and everything in it.” Brevner’s sights are in keeping with Montana’s. After releasing four albums, Matt Brevner seeks international recognition for himself and for his city. Writing in a Facebook post about his EP’s release, he states “It’s about time that #Vancouver got some recognition on the world stage.”

“Chico” features fellow Vancouver artists Within Roots and Stevie Ross, with production credits shared between Brevner, Within Roots’ Nico De Torres, and others. The EP’s final track, “Last Call,” features vocals and production from Calgary-based Fembot. Both tracks deftly mix heavy beats and electronic backtracks with melodic vocals, sung hooks, and Brevner’s subdued raps. The production equally showcases the talents of Brevner and his contributors. Paired with other rappers, however, Brevner’s verses are an afterthought. His verses meld with the ambience on “BNE,” while Memphis rapper Project Pat commands the track. Droning sub-bass, low-key melody and heavy beats are used to a similar effect on “Give a F*CK,” with Atlanta-based Rome Fortune at the forefront of the track with his energetic verse. Though Brevner is at his most dynamic on “Jane Doe (A hoe like YOU),” the track isn’t stronger for Houston rapper Riff Raff’s stuttering repetition of “Heart feels like it’s been ate by a shark.” Given the prominent feature of Southern rappers, comparisons of Brevner’s sound to Dirty South hip-hop are justified. His production style comes through but his narrative perspective fades.

Brevner is at his best when he subtly brings his perspective to the forefront. “All We Know” is one of two tracks on which Brevner is the sole performer and producer. The track represents an artist and a city on the border. Facing barriers to entry — “Still gettin’ searched through customs” — is a reality for any artist travelling to America. More particularly, it is a reality for Brevner as a Canadian hip-hop artist seeking recognition beyond his country’s borders. The video for “All We Know” is set on Vancouver’s streets, often overlooked in favour of mountainous panoramas. He needn’t describe another locale when his city has its own culture and urban narratives.

Brevner doesn’t scream Vancouver; it represents the city perceptively. To acknowledge Brevner’s work, then, is to quietly acknowledge Vancouver in it.

This review was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.