- SPIN Rating:8 of 10
Label: Mom + Pop
Anyone been to L.A. lately? Oh man, that place is a shithole — someone went and cleaned it all up! Downtown is now "Downtown!"; Jimmy Kimmel is the biggest freak on Hollywood Boulevard; and you can't even score under the Santa Monica Pier anymore. It's like someone went and made Lauren Conrad mayor. What happened to Fletch's L.A., where from Malibu to Marina Del Rey, San Pedro to Salt Creek, the beaches were contaminated by high-school dropouts and hippie burnouts, lousy with skateboarding punks, dope-smoking surfers, and guys who looked like George Wendt?
If you pine for those happier times, then herald the arrival of Fidlar, as in FIDLAR, as in FUCK IT DOG, LIFE'S A RISK (yep), a troupe of wily Culver City scumbags armed with cheap guitars, questionable grooming habits, and a name that very appropriately evokes the moment before you bomb a hill, drop into a wave, or huff a big bag of glue. Let's listen in: "Me and my friends in a $100 Volvo / Busting down the street while cruising Alvarado / Getting fucked up on the 101 / Shooting our guns and having fun / Forty beers later and a line of speed / Eight ball of blow and a half a pound of weed / Heading down the tracks to Mexico / Fucked on beer and staying gold / I. DRINK. CHEAP. BEER. SO. WHAT. FUCK. YOU."
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. That's "Cheap Beer," sonically and lyrically an ode to George Thorogood, and the opening track off the band's full-length debut. In the grand tradition of their forebears — dirtbag deities like the Weirdos, Germs, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear — these jams express a vision of Southern California that will not go gently into that good Applebee's. "Wake Bake Skate," "Stoked and Broke," "Blackout Stout," "Cocaine"…such are FIDLAR's prescriptions for dealing with a world of strip malls, stifling traffic, and constant sunshine.
The songwriting is equal parts concise and disorienting. There are one-minute bursts here that feel like glorious wipeouts, full of screaming, bleating, braying, and lots of low-end herking and jerking. But lest you peg our boys as doomed for that three-chord cul-de-sac wherein some of their heroes spent a career doing joyless doughnuts, note the additional dimensions: "Paycheck" roils like the Birthday Party or X, "Gimme Something" could be mistaken for Big Star, and "Max Can't Surf" is delightfully evocative of the Pixies, right down to frontman Zac Carper's Black Francis-style squelching ("SMOKING TWO PACKS A DAY!") and the song's catchy, incongruously swinging chorus of "May-ey-ay-ey-ax can't surf!" Carper, in fact, has a few pitches besides your standard punk-rock singer's down-the-middle, staccato-bleating fastball: There's also his screaming-bloody-murder cutter ("Beer"), his fight-for-your-right-to-party slider ("Stoked"), and his crooning-chorus-leading curve ("Max"). Supported by careening backbeats and guitars that sound like steel wool shot of out of a potato cannon, he's equal parts cheerleader and riot cop, except decidedly more belligerent than either.
All told, it's an endearing bag of tricks, and if you've read this far, perhaps you're thinking FIDLAR are another bunch of retro-punk hipsters with an awesome record collection of Germs seven-inches and Flipper LPs. But no dice. Unlike, say, Wavves, this isn't an arch quoting of unspoiled punk. It is unspoiled punk: fast because it has to be, sloppy because it's the best they could manage, debauched because what the hell else is there to do? "I feel like giving up / I feel like shooting up / I skateboard 'cause I'm fucking bored / I want a perfect left and the sunset shore," sings Carper, preaching the religion of surf punks the world over. They're a dying breed. It's getting harder and harder to find uncontaminated break, literally and metaphorically. Sometimes your only option is to load up a bowl, gas up the $100 Volvo, and head out in search of tasty waves, because fuck it dog, life's a risk.