Fang Island Major(Sargent House) Buy it from Insound
Fang Island are unusually good at describing their own music. As well as their oft-quoted four-word manifesto “everyone high-fiving everyone”, their latest press release outlines the goal of their songs as: “All of your favorite parts of the song that other bands make you wait 8 minutes to get to”. They aren’t even exaggerating: this is the main strength of Fang Island’s songwriting, their ear for power-pop catchiness. But they’ve also implicitly revealed their fatal flaw: they don’t give you enough of a sense of suspense and release which makes those climaxes your favourite parts.
In fact that was exactly what I always thought about their breakthrough 2009 song Daisy – it’s like they’ve superglued all of the most awesome bridges or middle-8s of a dozen other songs together and created one of the raddest rock songs in years. In this short form it worked brilliantly, but Major isn’t quite as hyperactive as that. They certainly keep the riffs flowing, but each song seems to stick to a fairly well-defined set of ideas rather than skittering about. Sisterly is a good example of a simple musical pattern that is fleshed out and taken to its logical but satisfying conclusion, and Asunder is similarly competently formulaic. Only the instrumental track/extended guitar solo Chompers really keeps you on your toes, refusing to stick to one melodic idea – and it also helps that it’s the shortest song on the album.
Make Me is the longest track at just under 6 minutes, but there aren't enough variations on the palm-mutes and multi-guitar note-bends to justify its length. Its climax is impressive, but it doesn’t exactly transcend its form. Still, there are droves of much less rousing rock bands who routinely sell out stadiums. I imagine Fang Island are “better live”, and for what it’s worth they do this type of anthemic songwriting better than a lot of big festival headliners; the problem is that they’ve refined their sound too much into that style.
It’s a real shame that the record is sequenced such that its left turns are the first and last tracks, both minimal piano-lead breaks from the shredding. Opener Kindergarten establishes the most complex mood on the album – and although the lyric “All I know I learned in Kindergarten” might not sound particularly developed, there’s an odd ambivalence to the track that I welcome more than the Bill and Ted-level sentiments of the rest of Major. Midway through there’s an attempt at deviation: Dooney Rock is an enjoyable country hoe-down, although the song descends again into show-offily quick strumming without really forging new paths. I do sometimes wonder how Fang Island are more indie-cred than guilty pleasure; they sound kind of like a band of amiably stereotypical guitar store clerks, and you do begin to wonder how they aren’t getting tired of classic rock by now.
The aforementioned press release for Major acknowledges this problem of their constant positivity: “Positive songs often run the risk of sounding shallow, but we feel there are a lot of shades and depths to positivity that can be explored.” But I’m simply not finding that much variation on this album, and even though it’s motivational, it just gets a bit disengaging. Their self-titled second record (their debut is largely forgettable) had a cinematic, journeying quality and every “whoa-oh-oh” still gives me goosebumps. It was more innovatively-structured, math-ier, briefer, it took more risks, and as such was both cleverer and bags more fun. And while Fang Island are as likeable as ever, Major just doesn’t do as much to get you into the spirit of their music. I really don’t want to write the band off, because there’s still some fun to be had here, and I have every confidence that they’ll revitalise themselves next time round if they can properly explore those “shades and depths”.30 July, 2012 - 08:15 — Stephen Wragg