FIDLAR’s “Almost Free:” This is Where the Fun begins
By: Giovanni Arias
FIDLAR’s latest release “Almost Free” bleeds counterculture in its lyrics and looks to find new ground within the pop-punk genre. The album deals with modern day issues like phones, social media, gentrification and the hyper-political climate the world find itself in. Front man Zac Carper leads the charge on the album, discussing his personal turmoil, covering thematic explorations of addiction, communication, and the political climate. To help more confessional lyrics resonate, songs are given catchy beats that flow in a much lighter fashion than expected given some of the darker material being covered. Each of the 13 tracks on the record serves as its own thematic exploration, the only issue being that some of the themes can be lyrically blunt, rendering some of the messages corny rather than poignant.
The record opens with the track “Get Off My Rock,” which starts with a shout, the band’s signature, and is followed by a statement against the gentrification of Hawaii, Carper’s home state. The statement tears in after audio samples of Hawaii’s iconic greeting, “Aloha,” notifying intruders that they are in someone else’s home, making a mockery of what is held dear by the island locals. The song is influenced indie artist Beck, using several instruments reminiscent of Beck’s hit song, “Loser,” but keeps the playful tone of the band intact. The song bares a beat that makes the listener feel just as offended by the invasion as the songwriter. Crunchy guitar riffs supplement the tone, expressing the frustration Carper feels for his homeland and his refusal to accept gentrification. Adding to the Hawaiian atmosphere is the integration of local slang in the lyrics. For instance, there is a reference to marijuana as “Pakololo.” This first track does well to introduce a new sound for the band, and sets up the style of tracks to come. Several of the songs follow this same pattern of establishing new sounds and themes for their discography. The inclusion of smaller scale goals for lyrics offers a good thematic diversity.
These smaller points often deal with Carper’s own addictions and relationships. For example, songs like “By Myself,” which opens with the line, “Well, I’m cracking one open with the boys, by myself,” is delivered in the same carefree tone as any other FIDLAR song. Though the lyrics may be dark, the song provides one of the most pop-oriented beats in the band’s entire discography. The lyrics read like an intimate confession but are underlined by a wavy party beat. The contrast between cathartic lyrical content and the ecstatic melody of this song make for an intriguing approach to the exploration of mental health. This construction makes it seem like you’re listening to an addict who refuses to acknowledge their problem, opting to live in denial instead.
At times it almost seems questionable whether Carper’s addictions are still an issue for him despite claims of kicking several substances. This makes the album feel more honest, as it indulges in blatant consumption on songs like “Alcohol” where he screams over a violent instrumental about drinking alone rather than participating in other activities, contrasted by other songs like “Almost Free.” This song in particular is devoid of lyrics yet has some of the most divergent instruments the band has implemented, including a brass section that dictates the direction of the tracks that follow it. One song, “Scam Likely,” uses the same brass instruments to lament the “dog-eat-dog” nature of the world. The band also includes new wind instruments that add to the tone. The flaw with this song is the shallowness its lyrics. The song’s lyrics are repetitive and they never reach for anything deeper than plainly stating how cruel the world’s systems can be.
Luckily the track after, “Called You Twice,” returns to more personal topics that hit on some themes that the songwriter seems much more familiar with. In particular, the song deals with the difficulty of saying goodbye to prior relationships saying, “I never meant to call you, but then I went and called you twice.” Structurally, the song offers a nice ramp of intensity at the start that climaxes in the chorus. Supplemented by a feature from the female artist, K. Flay, the song becomes a sort of duet that allows for any gender to relate to the lyrics, making for a more powerful impact in the end. This is especially true when the chorus is sung by both Zac and K. Flay at the same time, making for more impassioned performances on both ends. Lyrically, this song provides little ambiguity in meaning and the song remains effective in explaining how people can make bad decisions despite knowing better. After “Called You Twice,” the album takes a hard left turn into an aggressive interlude leading into the most politically charged material of the album with the song “Too Real.”
“Too Real” takes a stance that not everyone can resonate with, making the subject matter slightly volatile. It offers a less popular opinion in favor of alternative viewpoints. Starting out with a hard synth baseline and a few foreboding plucks of guitar welcomes a catchy percussion. Immediately, the song calls back to bands such as “Rage Against the Machine” both lyrically and sonically. The lyrics open with a line saying, “I’ve been thinking about the things I can’t say/ ‘Cause everybody freaks out every single day.” Right off the bat, the themes are laid out, the band is not looking to detest everything from the particular sector of politics that is viewed as overly sensitive, to the data being collected from everyone on a daily basis. Behind each verse there’s a riot of instrumentation that wears its Rage Against the Machine influences on its sleeve. Roaring drums serve as the foundation for some piercing guitar riffs that add conviction to the abrasive lyrical performance. Together these elements work to create a sound that represents defiance in the punk-rock space. The following two tracks don’t reach the same heights as “Too Real.” The slower pace of these songs -namely “Kick”, and “Thought. Mouth”- feel slightly less effective coming straight off the intensity of the last track, but the quality picks back up in the closer, “Good Times are Over.” The trackbenefits from a repetitive, yet catchy melody that works well to finish off the album. It’s a somber song that enjoys the benefit of having been placed very effectively in the track order. The song features instrumentation that provides a feeling of closure to the ending allowing for a better structure to the record as a whole. On the whole, “Almost Free” works well as an album and serves as a demonstration of FIDLAR’s willingness to evolve their music to keep it fresh and interesting for years to come.