Album Reviews: The 405 & 402 Productions LOVE Fang Island’s Major
An enigmatic fist pump, a rapturous applause, a shiny star on the front of your homework, Major by Fang Island is a victory for not taking yourself too seriously and for remembering that the roots of adulthood maturity are buried in childhood innocence. It’s also a reminder that the best songs are sometimes simply the ones that have the guitar playing as loud as possible.
The success of this album is it’s honesty. We are never over-promised anything by Fang Island, so when they over-deliver on several tracks, it’s a delight. The opener, ‘Kindergarten’, is a jaunty piano loop under which foreboding melodies rise and break before singer Jason Bartell ushers us into the band’s new album. So we take our seats, cross-legged on the floor, ready for whatever is about to be thrown at us. Major never runs out of steam, and manages to shift up the gears just at the right times, and those worried about the adjusted dynamic of the band (certainly vocals are much more prominent on this release), Fang Island manage to change it up at regular intervals throughout, keeping everything fresh as it hits our eager ears. Album highlight ‘Seek It Out’ reverberates with feelings of picking up a guitar for the first time and trying to play that rock song you saw on Top of the Pops once, where ‘Never Understand’ takes what would otherwise be a fairly standard piece of indie-pop, and overlays the melody with punchy guitar riffs, which keeps the song from feeling tired as it buoys along throughout.
’Dooney Rock’ is a song I would like to believe would fit well in a remake for the Titanic. Particularly, the scene where Jack and Rose are dancing with the ‘lower class’ Irish people, and everything is forgotten by our two lovers apart from the music. Without lyrics, it showcases the band’s ability to still create a flow to songs without any apparent grounding, normally readily apparent in music like this. This is done so well that when the lyrics return in the next track, ‘Regalia’, you almost wish they don’t, but that whole idea is done away with when ‘Regalia’ goes from dream pop to crooning rock in a heartbeat. ‘Victorinian’ brings back the syncopated piano, and ends the album on a high, yet somber note. “What will happen to me if I lose my name?” sings Bartell. With Major, Fang Island have made it hard to imagine they’ll ever lose what makes them such a joy to listen to.
Fang Island just want you to have fun, and there’s enough here to party all through the summer. Whether that feeling lasts through the winter is really up to how much you want to invest in the album. Luckily there’s plenty here to keep you warm. Rating: 8/10 - by Barnabas Abraham
This album’s anticipation has been building for months and months. I mean, could you blame it though? Fang Island jumped into our ears two years ago with their self-titled album, to which many positive reviews cheered their fearless happy shredding. If you were lucky enough to catch this band with their first album, Day of Great Leap, you most likely have the best knowledge of the fearless happy shredding I am talking about. It’s guitar playing to play guitar — not for some overly complicated and extremely deep reason. It’s songs that Fang Island create that make someone want to pick up a guitar and play in a band. Maybe behind the wizard hood is a darker, sadder person, but Major doesn’t wear any of those kinds of hearts on the sleeve.
Although most would praise the guitar work or instrumentation first, I’m going to start off with the vocals. The reason is this: decisive growth. If I’m not mistaken, the introduction of vocals was a crux for the band to be signed to Sargent House, as the House had already a handful of instrumental shredders on the roster. And lo, tracks like “Careful Crossers” and “Daisy” came to be. Major adds more vocals to the mix from Jason Bartell and Chris Georges — a good amount more. The design of mixing the older Fang Island style (“Chompers”) with newer, more vocal tracks (“Sisterly”, “Chime Out”) holds down that similar vibe we all had from the self-titled, except the difference is the presentation. Heavy vocal songs, with actual lyrics that are meant to be understood, mixed with purely instrumental songs. This step is a positive assertion that they aren’t just throwing in vocals just to be cute or to settle a deal but to really grow and really expand upon different ways to do what they do so well — which is obviously shred.
Guitar work on this album is bar none. It really spans the gamut of ability: from cocky sounding endless outros (“Regalia”) to chord pounding catchiness (“Seek It Out”). At points, the album tastes like pop punk. At other points, hair metal. The mixing and bending of all these variations is a feat in itself, but the creation of something vastly more complicated than any pop punk or hair metal song (let alone album) is something not just to be in awe of but to be completely mesmerized by. Seriously, what the hell is going on in those heads to create something like this? It’s as if Bartell and Georges got together and said to each other, “Hey, I made a pretty sweet riff today,” and proceeded to play to each other while realizing neither riff sounded like the other. Rather than creating two songs, they made a single song… and that’s how I feel almost every single song on this album has been pieced together. A cacaphony of styles buried within a symphony of guitar rock.
The other major aspect of this album, one which I never noticed until I saw Fang Island live, is the use of piano/keyboard. The most obvious tracks are “Kindergarten” and “Victorian”. The heavy piano-rock vibe that emits off of these songs are something much different than any other Fang Island song in prior engagements. Normally, piano or synth was hidden as more of a bed, or drone, to the track’s normal guitar mashing. However, with tracks like these and “Chime Out”, the synth vibe has moved from the back to the front in a fairly strong fashion. I’m really glad about the balance and introduction of how heavy the keys were used on the album, making it less in-your-face and more tasteful — classy, even.
Marc St. Sauveur is a man who will receive very little praise in articles to come about this album, as the drumming is overshadowed by the stringed assault from the guitar section of the group. However, it should be noted that St. Sauveur is the glue that holds this group together. Something that will separate this album from the likes of Delicate Steve is the band aspect and the band writing nature of each song. While Delicate Steve can easily showcase guitar prowess, the band vibe created from Delicate Steve is less about a group playing together and more about accenting the feature player. Drums for Fang Island is critical. It’s not just a thumping of a floor drum and calling whoever is onstage a drummer. It’s the driving force behind many of the tracks on the album.
Possibly the best parts of this album come from the slower jams. Now, I say “slower” in relation to the album. “Regalia” is no where near “slow” by any means, but somewhere between “Dooney Rock” and “Regalia” is a point where the album’s pace lets off the gas a bit, revealing some of the most endearing riffs and lyrics on the entire album. “Chime Out” may be my favorite track on the album, being heavily focused on vocals, synth, and pretty much every possible adjective that you couldn’t use to describe what Fang Island was doing on their self-titled album. “I belong to you and you alone/you’ve got it all wrong/”I’m never gonna stop”/you said it yourself” is maybe the closest this album gets to sad. The culmination of the entire album feeding into this track and then into “Victorian” just puts a huge smile on my face. Not too sure why… but then again, there isn’t really a reason to dwell on why. Just sit back and enjoy.
I don’t see any backlash from the current fan base at all for this album. As a good friend of mine (and fellow Fang Island lover) put it, when the possibility of more vocals were announced he wasn’t expecting much… but then it blew him out of the fucking water. I believe every fan (the denizens of Fang Island, if you will) will embrace the lyrically driven songs as many (if not most) have been trying to mumble the words to the relatively mushy lyrics of the previously released songs. The event of having a show full of people chanting the lyrics to “Seek It Out” is something I am going to have to experience… dreaming about this will not do the live show justice.
It’s possible that listeners (both fans and newcomers) may find the album too streamlined in its happiness and uptempo tracks. It’s true that the slower tracks are stacked towards the end, giving six or seven songs of uptempo mind blasting their full effect. Throwing “Kindergarten” in the middle of the album somewhere may have helped, with “Sisterly” just starting the album off beast-mode style.
The hardest question to answer may be whether or not we will see even more vocals the next time around? A handful of these songs have been with Fang Island for years now (“Seek It Out” and “Chompers” are two that fans have sought after studio versions for) while a handful of newer songs are much more different as mentioned previously. I would personally like to see more “Seek It Out” and “Chime Out” songs, but there seems to be a lack of “Careful Crossers” and “The Illinois” type guitar finger mashing tracks that I was initially drawn to.
Let’s be honest. Fang Island is a viral video/song cover away from becoming the next huge guitar rock band. If that Mariah Carey cover showed up on a single? We’d be listening to “Sisterly” on Clear Channel alt stations the next day. This new album is guitar rock at its best. If you’re just tuning in, you’re in for a pretty amazing ride. By Nick Wan