I feel like I have to come clean right off the bat and admit my undying love for FIDLAR. They’re one of the only bands I’d go to Terminal 5 to see, I have “FIDLAR” tattooed on me forever, and I literally ran out of swipes on Tinder looking for Max when they were in town. But just because I’m kind of potentially clinically obsessed doesn’t mean I have to love this album, and I didn’t on the first listen.
You’d never want a band you love to make the same album twice. You want something new and exciting while it maintains the guts and blood of the band that you fell in love with from their previous albums. I didn’t love the album on the first listen because I was completely caught off guard, but now that’s why I really do love it. There are so many different flavors mixed up in there. They’re all fresh off the shelf, but they leave a nostalgic taste in your mouth. These guys – Zac Carper, Elvis and Max Kuehn, and Brandon Schwartzel – are incredible musicians who are able to use their technical abilities and sheer intuition to compose serious songs that are the absolute most fun to listen to. Almost Free is their most direct and wide-reaching album so far, and while it may take a listen or two to settle in (or not, maybe I’m just extra?), it’ll be so good once you do.
One of the things about FIDLAR as a band that’s so infectious is how they’re not afraid to cross any lines. They don’t steer away from what some bands might see as cliche or over the top, and they lean into it because sometimes being a giant fireball of sad trash burning on the fumes of grain alcohol and hurling towards the last gasoline-soaked straw to set that on fire as well is as honest as you can be. It seems like there’s nothing in Zac’s extremely fraught personal life he’ll shy away from, and you can feel that honesty when they play. It’s often wild and totally heavy.
The first track “Get Off My Rock” sounds like some monster child of Beastie Boys and vintage Beck. It has that energy you’d expect from them, with the added strangeness and newness you’d hope for. It’s personal and it’s political – I’m assuming about Zac’s native Hawaii. It goes, “big fuckin deal you can gentrify / back in the day it was to colonize,” which is extremely loaded and can be applied to a huge global and historical scale. FIDLAR’s written political songs before (“Why Generation,” for example), but the lyrics here seem heavier and more specific.
Then you have “Can’t You See,” a social commentary on how we view consumerism, religion, and general happiness, among other things. It’s got a groove you can’t ignore and a melody that’s hypnotizing. From there you go to “By Myself,” which has got a bassline that kind of reminds you of a carnival. It’s a deliriously upbeat song at least as far as the instrumentation goes, bongos and super playful and rhythmic guitar parts included. I think there’s also a cat meowing in there? Some online forums compared this song to a Smashmouth song, and while I’ll humbly disagree, this is the point in the album that first started to remind me of the many lowkey sociopaths I’ve met in my day.
As the album moves on, no one track sounds like the next. At all. It’s confusing to hear for the first time, but it’s also super exciting. There are horns that weirdly take you back to that time in high school when it was essential for rock bands to have a saxophone player. There’s the sentimental moment with “Called You Twice (feat. K Flay)” that’s reminiscent of early 2000’s pop punk in a distant way, which is then followed by “Nuke,” a 40-second interlude that blows up the previous romantic state of mind with straight-up noise. Like… what? I kept messaging my friends to tell them that if the new album were a person it’d be a sociopath.
But one of the main characteristics of a sociopath is lack of empathy, and that’s not Almost Free. Yeah, it says “fuck you” a lot, and there’s the illusion of not really giving a shit in half of the lyrics, but it’s in response to the unbelievable garbage fire that is the planet right now. Even the songs that aren’t directly political are made political by the fact they’re bundled up in this strange but addictive string of songs. It’s self-aware but not in the slightest bit self-conscious, and that’s exactly what I’d want from this band.