The southern California skate punk band FIDLAR continues to push its sound past the confines of the garage on its third full-length album, “Almost Free.” While the lyrical subject matter has only evolved slightly beyond drugs, partying and emotional breakdowns, the band does take a particular risk with intricate song structures and careful production throughout.
At times, the music on this new record feels entirely divorced from the no-frills punk sound of the band’s self-titled debut. The album’s instrumental title-track, for example, takes on a vaguely cinematic feel with a fuzzed-up guitar lick and full horn section — something new for the band. And while the song may be hard to recognize as a FIDLAR track, nothing about it feels forced or out of place.
The eclectic influence also works incredibly well on the song “By Myself,” which begins as a somewhat expected, self-loathing acoustic number, but quickly turns into a dance-driven party anthem. The song’s surprising club beat, accentuated by some Talking Heads-style percussion, becomes ironic and purposeful when paired with frontman Zac Carper’s ambivalent attitude towards alcoholism and drinking alone. “I don’t need no one / Wish I had someone, anyone,” he sings.
Other times, however, the music moves in odd directions, more distracting than intriguing. The album’s opener, “Get Off My Rock,” plays out like a ‘90s rap-rock song, similar to Beck, Beastie Boys or even Kid Rock — which is an uncomfortable yet accurate comparison.
Carper’s drug-centered lyrics can also begin to grow tired. At this point in the band’s career, having a song called “Alcohol” on the album — with a titular, one-word chorus — just feels like self-parody. Drug abuse and alcoholism are of course very serious subjects, but it sometimes seems as if Carper would have nothing left to write about it if he were to get completely sober.
That becomes apparent on the song “Too Real,” on which Carper gives a full list of complaints about society, with observations that are not nearly as revelatory as he makes them sound. “Why the hell is everybody on their phone / Why is the answer to life on the fuckin' phone,” he says, seemingly without any irony. It’s a valid complaint, but the criticism is just too easy to make.
The songwriting is more subdued and respectable on the track “Called You Twice,” which features guest vocals from singer-songwriter K.Flay. Carper revisits the familiar theme of a messy romantic relationship, and while a couple of pointless clichés still make their way into the lyrics — “I went to every school / But never really learned” — the sentiment still feels genuine.
The album’s closer, “Good Times Are Over,” may be somewhat derivative of the band Wavves; however, the song is still well-written and justifies the band’s venture into a more pop-oriented sound.
FIDLAR does benefit at times from musical experimentation and a softening around the edges. But unfortunately, “Almost Free” suffers too much from lazy lyrics and a lack of self-awareness to fully stand out.