After a few weeks of seeing their name on all over my usual Internet destinations and remaining oblivious to their amazingness, I finally listened to the new album by Brooklyn-based Fang Island, and felt like an idiot for sleeping on this band so long. Fang Island’s debut self-titled record on Sargent House Records begins with the intro song Dream of Dreams, with the sound of fireworks and a thick synth melody that builds up to an organ and chorus of voices that is mesmerizing. It seamlessly transitions into the next track, Careful Crossers, which has all the band’s best elements on display. At that point, Fang Island’s combination of power guitar noodling (not unlike the sort of infectious and flat-out awesome guitar work on Andrew WK’s debut I Get Wet, which I was most definitely NOT expecting) and instrumental energy had me under its spell; from then on I was Fang Island’s slave.
The next song, Daisy, marks the return of the vocal harmonies, this time in a sort of tribal chant melody, all set to the adventurous guitar and relentless pounding of the drums. The thing about Fang Island that I like the most is how the vocals are used almost instrumentally, as an addition to the drums and guitar, rather than taking over and being the most overbearing thing about the music. I can’t tell what they are talking about, but the vocals are so majestic and soaring that it doesn’t matter.
Life Coach has luscious vocals set to a pounding synth beat, making the song pretty offbeat yet equally incredible. By the time it builds to the “chorus”, the vocal effects combine with the drums, keyboards and guitar to create a tornado of sounds that make the song so astounding that the word “epic” wouldn’t even do it justice.
But then, the record gets EVEN BETTER. Sideswiper has more of the swelling guitar and frantic energy that builds and builds until the tempo slows down a bit, the chorus of voices comes back and leads into my favorite part on the entire album, the kind of guitar solo that sounds like Fang Island is covering some cheesy 1980’s movie theme but in a way that uncheesifies it and makes it amazing. The layered effects of the guitars in the song literally made me smile the first time I heard it, because it is just PERFECT. It’s the kind of music that I will occasionally hear that completely slaps me in the face and won’t let go, making listening in the car a dangerous idea. Fang Island is worth the swerving, though.
The vocal harmonies Fang Island employs on this record are of the same kind as bands like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, but done better (take that, hipsters!). Whereas with Grizzly Bear, the vocals are frequently the focal point of the music, with Fang Island they are just there to accentuate the pounding instrumental jams, and they do so in such an impressive manner it’s amazing this band isn’t on that level yet.
Treeton actually has a verse, of sorts, but again with a chorus of voices, before leading into an instrumental middle segment with a driving rhythm and more chant-like vocals. It’s more of the same, but in the best way possible.
Fang Island has three guitarists, probably the reason why the guitar work on this album is so powerful and layered. All three of them do a marvelous job creating a thick, atmospheric sound for the record, while occasionally busting out a solo that only makes things that much more epic (and I hate that word, I just can’t think of an alternative that does it justice).
Davey Crockett slows things down a bit (temporarily, at least), with some slow keyboard hum, hushed guitars and vocal chants, before exploding again at the two-minute mark, brought back to a full-on guitar and vocal jam. The band can do no wrong, really.
Every song on this album basically has the same elements on display: a chorus of voices, thick guitar melodies and an energy that either builds up or slows things down. However, the music Fang Island makes is so rich and flavorful that it doesn’t ever make things boring. Most bands that use three guitarists either have a muddled or overly compressed sound or do not use all the guitars adequately. Fang Island is not one of these bands, as listening to the album from start to finish is a jaw-dropping experience.
By the time Dorian closes out amid the sound of exploding fireworks (a nice bookend to the album), I was ready to start back on the first song again. This is an amazing, impeccably-robust sounding album, by a band that I simply MUST see live sometime. If it sounds like I’m talking them up really big, I am.
Sargent House was already my favorite record label, since they house bands like Rx Bandits and Red Fang, but their stock rose even higher in my book for pushing Fang Island. I think my reaction to Fang Island is similar to what most people get from The Arcade Fire: incredible, stunningly crafted music with original, powerful instrumentals and hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies.
Except that Fang Island does it better.