Before their self-titled debut was released in 2010, Brooklyn-based rockers Fang Island memorably described their sound as “everyone high-fiving everyone”. In doing so, they rendered practically every review of that debut album superfluous. Despite the reams of critical praise that were tapped out in support of Fang Island, a life-affirming riot of duelling guitars, heroic surges and triumphant momentum, nothing summed up the band’s appeal better than that little phrase. In a postmodern world where everything seems to hide something else, Fang Island serve a refreshingly simple purpose: to create a sound that brings to mind the whole world gathering into one room and high-fiving the living crap out of each other for the sheer, bloody-minded joy of it.
In case you hadn’t noticed, bloody-minded joy is a pretty rare commodity among skinny white guys with guitars, so no one’s really looking for any great change of pace on the band’s follow-up Major. Luckily for us, while the band take subtle musical steps at various points, the album rattles and reverberates with the same frenetic pace and fist-pumping energy as its predecessor.
Unsurprisingly, guitars are still the major force behind Fang Island. ‘Asunder’ gathers its central riff like a tsunami before crashing into a glorious final section of distortion and unironic handclaps (which, by the sounds of it, the band are trying to single-handedly reclaim, one clap at a time). Two chatting guitars spit licks at each other at the start of anthemic stomper ‘Never Understand’, a six-string conversation that lurches into a good-natured shouting match as the riffs begin to wrap themselves around each other.
As before, the vocals are few and far between, the lyrics nonessential. The layered voices on Major instead become another spark in the firework display. It’s Fang Island’s musicianship and control that allows them to eschew regular vocals without losing their grip on the chaotic swirl. The guitars of Chris Georges and Jason Bartell provide the perfect replacement for words as their riffs speak to each other, and the listener, with their own extensive vocabulary. Except here it’s less ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and more ‘While My Guitar Gleefully Slaps You In The Chops With A Bucket Of Happy Juice’.
Although Major is chiefly a continuation of Fang Island’s usual M.O., some subtle experimentation expands the range of influences getting sucked into the whirlwind. ‘Dooney Rock’ touches on Irish folk and Appalachian bluegrass to create a dizzying jig that’s amplified with cheery heavy metal shredding and, yes, more unironic handclaps. It’s the song the working class passengers would have danced to in the bowels of the Titanic, if Van Halen happened to have been on board at the time. The album is even bookended by two songs led by a piano, of all things, but while the jerking keys on ‘Victorinian’ and ‘Kindergarten’ add a completely new texture to the Fang Island sound, they’re percussive enough to be a good fit. They also give us the chance to actually hear some lyrics, with ‘Kindergarten’ in particular shedding some light on the band’s unaffected, instinctive approach: “All I know/I learned in/Kindergarten”.
Along with the likes of Andrew W.K., Fang Island provide a valuable public service to the world of rock. They go against the grain to write songs that aim for the heart and hips rather than the head, songs that invite you to stop thinking and start jumping around to overblown guitar solos that echo the wide-stanced epicosity of Guns N’ Roses, the pomp and posturing replaced by a moon-faced delight that seems to revel in the world’s sunshine and awesomeness. And if that recommendation isn’t enough, we could just go back to “everyone high-fiving everyone”. It’s probably a better description anyway.
Listen to Major