Album Review: FIDLAR – Almost Free
Modern life, as pretty much everyone and everything seems determined to remind us, is rubbish. Humankind’s custodianship of the planet hurtles further into the abyss as the lunatics run wild in the asylum of global politics and social media heaps the misery on one hashtag at a time. To put it bluntly, we’re fucked – so you may as well drink up, because tomorrow we might wake up dead. Los Angeles four-piece FIDLAR seem to ‘get’ that more than most, and on third record Almost Free they’ve cobbled together the perfect antidote to end-times ennui.
It’s smarter than empty, frat-house sentiment, though. The hedonistic, party-all-the-time abandon of their youth is still in evidence, but consequence and doom are never far behind. There’s scar tissue to show for all the damage done, the hangovers are getting harder to shift, and the highs aren’t so high anymore. Somehow, it still sounds like a total riot.
Opener Get Off My Rock comes stomping into view courtesy of an obnoxious hip-hop beat blasting through a cacophonous swirl of sirens, dogs barking and an earworm harmonica loop as vocalist Zac Carper distortedly rages against the one per cent edging into his manor. By Myself is a self-deprecating take on addiction, fucking up and the loneliness of recovery. ‘I started at the bottom, now I’m still at the bottom / Then I spent a night in jail, turns out it wasn’t the bottom,’ he jests – a pretty gloomy sentiment given the context of his personal history of tragic losses to substance abuse and several drug overdoses. Except it’s on one of the catchiest songs you’ll hear all year. Oh, and there’s a bongo solo thrown in for good measure, because why wouldn’t there be?
Such freewheeling spirit and casual non-sequiturs are all over Almost Free, with a cornucopia of ‘anything goes’ creativity on offer, comprising flashes of hip-hop, glam rock, fuzzed-out funk, punk and everything in between. Yet not once does it sound contrived or anything but an album very much of the here and now. Case in point is the addictive, self-titled mid-point interlude, which struts along like a Tarantino flick borrowing a groove-laden motif from a ‘70s Blaxploitation soundtrack, thanks to the building tension and tease of its brass parps and heavy bass. Scam Likely nods to the past with a Keith Richards-like guitar lick reimagined by The Clash as trumpets and sax vie for supremacy; an effect akin to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion remixed by Mark Ronson, but with Beastie Boys-esque street smarts. You really won’t hear another record quite like this in 2019.
Later, the gorgeous Called You Twice injects a swelling, romantic centre to proceedings, offsetting all the knowing snark elsewhere, with GRAMMY-nominated artist K.Flay’s vocal wrapping around the aching heartbreak of Zac’s like a warm, comforting blanket. Yet there’s an even more naked moment of genuine vulnerability to follow as the hyperventilating, paranoid vibes and shuffling rhythms of Too Real make way for the stark standout line, ‘If I die will anyone notice if I’m not around? / If I’m not gonna make it then I’m gonna have to kill / Oh shit, man, was that too fucking real?’ Gurning or grinning, FIDLAR, it seems, can do art and artifice.
All of which makes Almost Free an absolute joy to behold. It’s a trip to listen to, and an instant modern classic.
Words: David McLaughlin
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