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The opening track on Fangclub’s eponymous debut album – Bullet Head – breezes past in a nifty two minutes flat. The whole record races from one end to the other in just over thirty. Fangclub aren’t hanging around. They come in, do the work required of them, and pop off to the next task before you’ve time to offer them a cup of tea.
Recently shortlisted for this year’s Choice Prize, Fangclub may not seem to be particularly the type of album to typically take home this type of big award. Taking its cues directly from the alternative rock and grunge sounds of the ’90s, Fangclub haven’t broken into radical new musical territory. On the surface, there’s nothing too complex at work here at all.
There’s notes of rage and nifty hooks and a host of other little notes and flavours, and it’s all been battered into a simple time-worn formula by the dynamic three-piece and played at an appropriately room-shaking volume.
Anybody’s who has been to a Fangclub gig will know that their shows are satisfyingly wild affairs, with walls of noise and frequent appearances of mosh pits. As a record, Fangclub doesn’t quite capture this side of the band to full effect. But it isn’t trying to. The production at work here is clean and slick throughout, bathed in a sharp clarity rather than an excessively messy wash of distortion. Each of the elements is carefully weighed up and dropped in at just the right moment. There are plenty of chaotic riffs and screaming choruses liberally distributed across the album’s ten tracks, but it is always deployed with careful precision. The right effect at the right moment.
The result is a highly polished debut album from the young band. Fangclub have shown that they can do more than make a lot of noise, they know a few things about working this type of sound onto a recording in an effective manner.
The likes of ‘Role Models’ and ‘Bad Words’ deliver un-unselfconscious throwbacks to a distinctively ‘90s alt-rock sound, that works so well precisely because Fangclub aren’t dressing up what they’re doing. These songs recall the band’s influences (Weezer, Foo Fighters, Pixies chief among them) clearly, with a comfortable command of their chosen genre on display throughout. Fangclub may not have invented any of these tricks, but they sure know how to roll them at just the right moment and get the absolute most out of them.
The individual elements being deployed aren’t complicated, but this renders the end product no less effective. ‘Lightning’ build itself along a simple build-up of repeated lyrics and an airy riff that recalls Feeder at their best, to capture a story of childhood fear.
‘Dreamcatcher’ meanwhile deploys an interplay of uncomplicated riffs, tight changes between parts and melancholy lyrics. ‘Bad Words’ is a standout for the band’s rhythm section, a track that builds along a steady beat to a satisfying payoff.
‘Common Ground’ blasts past in a swirl of sounds that recalls the early Foo Fighters stuff. It’s one of the few tracks that stick around long enough to have a full-blown guitar solo, and it still whips past the listener at a lightning pace – delivering on its purpose and tearing along to the next track before there’s even a hint any welcome might be outstayed.
The album’s tail end drops off the pace a little for more tracks that hang around slightly longer. ‘Loner’ brings the pace down for a more introspective sounding number powered by a moody, echoing guitar riff. Meanwhile, the album’s closing track, ‘Animal Skin’, ends things on a surprisingly downbeat note for a record that doesn’t make much of a foray into this tone up until now. It’s an effective closer precisely because of this. The slow-burning, lingering depressive atmosphere fills up the gaps left by what is elsewhere a breathless pace – and is perhaps one of the best indications that there’s more in Fangclub’s repertoire than they’ve shown off here.
In a way, this record recalls the debut of another great Irish band – Kerbdog. Like Kerbdog, Fangclub have a clear command of an uncomplicated alternative rock guitar-based sound, and know just how to deploy it to proper rousing effect, deploying a forceful blast noise tempered with a catchy melody. Unlike Kerbdog, Fangclub seem to be well on their way to breaking out of their alternative niche and into the mainstream.