Speaking about FIDLAR’s track record up to this point is rather quick and painless, mostly because they don’t really have one. Their 2013 self-titled debut arrived at a time when indie-punk and wider-scale garage-rock revivalism was in its infancy, and thus rough-hewn songs about surfing and weed did enough to fill a hole while the wheels began to get into motion. Then there was Too in 2015, which was more or less a rehash of that debut, none of which helped to remedy the idea that FIDLAR had only one dimension that, even at the point, had start to run its course. It almost makes sense, then, that they took four years off between albums, not just to retool their arsenal for something that could possibly have a greater effect, but also scout out what their peers in the scene were doing to keep their heads above water. After all, the ‘evolve or die’ mentality isn’t something that’s historically prevailed within garage-rock, and the fact that FIDLAR do seem to be taking it into account for Almost Free is a good start.
And this is definitely a much better album than anything that FIDLAR have done in the past, but to simply leave it at that would be to unfairly diminish how shockingly good Almost Free is. This is about as sharp of a U-turn as FIDLAR could’ve made, eradicating any shortcomings or limitations they may have had and turning them into a flat-out great band with barely any fuss. It’s basically the garage-rock equivalent of a ‘90s Nickelodeon show, veering towards some insight that’s definitely good for it, but shining the brightest in terms of colour, vibrancy and a street-level scratchiness emblematic of imperfect perfection.
That’s definitely a rather extravagant claim, especially considering FIDLAR’s former position in the mid-tier at the very best, but it really does feel earned, especially when Almost Free embraces a sense of fun (at least outwardly) that both of their other albums should have done, but never did. It’s made clear right from the off as well, with the Beastie Boys-esque slam and gleeful slide guitar of Get Off My Rock that throws big hints towards how much of a sonic departure this album is. The shifting core sound has now edged towards scuzzy, sneering alt-pop, and while that provides a good number of thrills on its own on Alcohol or Called You Twice (the latter also features K.Flay which in itself is a strong indication of where this album is going), the fact that FIDLAR are willing to not only stretch themselves out more than ever, but also succeed, is where the true joy comes from. The big, blaring horns on the title track and Scam Likely are totally irresistible, while the slippery dance-rock of By Myself and the thick, static-corrupted groove that comprises the entirety of Nuke work incredibly well too, even as pieces of a messy but rock-solid whole. For all of FIDLAR’s past attempts at sounding like the carefree slackers having all the fun in the world, Almost Free stands head and shoulders above everything they’ve ever done in terms of sheer entertainment value.
That’s rather ironic too, especially when this album sees FIDLAR leave the beach to indulge in their darkest, most real subject matter to date. And while on paper that sounds like it might land with an audible clunk (it was one of the initial problems with Paramore’s After Laughter and the way it presented itself), FIDLAR clearly have the intelligence to know not to go above their station, and so while they may be taking a stand, they do so in a way that’s probably at the right depth for those same slackers to appreciate. It can be awkward sometimes, especially when they arguably try too much at once like on Too Real and stumble over their own intentions, but Get Off My Rock’s take on gentrification and Thought. Mouth.’s exasperation at the culture of texting rather than talking are the sort of grievances that FIDLAR can vocalise well. As for more personal material, that same approach works just as well, with Alcohol evaluating frontman Zac Carper’s turbulent relationship with drinking in an equally guttural, grotty manner, while By Myself highlights the problem of men not discussing their mental health by framing itself as the jauntiest, most poppy track on the album. Again, it’s all totally in FIDLAR’s wheelhouse, but the execution and general aura that Almost Free gives off makes the end product so much more gratifying.
And for FIDLAR, that’s a colossal step in the right direction that, just a few years ago, looked as though it would be totally impossible. After all, back then they were just another band for the pile, ready to get lost in the shuffle when the next remotely similar one came along, but here, they’ve reinvented themselves as the garage-rock band to beat. There’s not a single feature on Almost Free that isn’t the best it’s ever been for this band, and the fact they’ve taken that much of a leap forward is not only amazing, but genuinely heartwarming. Right now, it’s easier to enjoy FIDLAR’s music than it ever has been, partly because they’re actually playing to their strengths and fostering them in the right way, and partly because they’ve all coalesced into a truly great album.
For fans of: SWMRS, Remo Drive, Cloud Nothings
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Almost Free’ by FIDLAR is out now on Mom+Pop Records.