Another month, another late edition of the Musicalphabet! I have heard from credible sources that an audience will be well disposed toward a piece that starts with a joke. So in order to win back the favour I’ve lost by being late two times in a row, here’s the one and only music related joke I know:
What is the difference between a guitar and a tuna fish?
You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish.
Hilarity ensues, surely.
Okay, now that everyone is back on their seats (from which they have fallen due to hysterical laughter, of course), we can begin.
Fuzz can be many things. For instance, it is the name of a 1972 action comedy staring Burt Reynolds. It is also a derogatory slang term for a police officer, first used in 1920, which gives us, as it happens, the name of another action comedy, albeit one of a more recent vintage: Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
(Ed – And woolly stuff.)
None of this is relevant here in any shape or form, of course, since this is not a film column.
(Ed – Or a wool column.)
Fuzz also describes the warm and dirty guitar sound achieved by adding overtones to the sound via distortion and compression. This, by contrast, is highly relevant because it is this effect that so many Rock bands employ – from The Rolling Stones and The Beatles to Black Sabbath and AC/DC – and that is the defining characteristic of Garage- and Stoner-Rock. Which brings us to Fuzz, the band, featuring singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and hero of the genre, Ty Segall. In this latest endeavour of his he has withdrawn himself to behind the drum set although he still sings, and writes a good portion of the songs. And he is a good drummer too, fast and loose yet precise, powerful, absolutely thrilling.
But let’s be honest, this is all about the fuzz, man! In the immensely powerful and brawny muscle of Fuzz’s low-end guitar driven sound, with Segall’s early Sabbath Ozzy vocals on top – that’s where you find the riffs, the solos, the hooks. That’s what it’s all about on an album like this: satisfyingly stoned and overwhelmingly heavy grooves that burn themselves into your synapses and make you involuntarily tap your foot hours and even days after listening to them.
What Fuzz lacks is sonic diversity. (Ed – Unlike all of the other bands this column celebrates) The band is obviously very good at delivering infectious hooks with muscle and soul, but those moments only pop if there’s also the occasional quiet moment to offset the heavy stuff. It’s a tricky balance to strike, and Fuzz are constantly teetering on the edge of noodling just a little bit too long, or pushing one idea just a little bit too far. This does detract from the experience as a whole, but it doesn’t mean that the album, and individual songs, aren’t thoroughly enjoyable. This is a debút album after all, and a damn good foundation to build on.
The year is 2007, a simpler (if not more innocent) time, in which the United States went through one of their awkward phases with a Texan farmer and former cocaine addict at the helm. A band from Colorado was riding the wave of success generated by their hit “Handlebars” off their album Fight With Tools, a commendable attempt at fusing seemingly irreconcilable musical ideas. The Flobots disregarded any negativity generated by such failed acts as Kid Rock and Rehab and sought to forge a future where Alternative/Indie and Rap music might exist alongside each other like Lion and Lamb.
Success was momentarily achieved.
5 years later, and the world has changed considerably but remarkably the Flobots have not. Three studio albums in, the band has perfected their rhythmically complex brand of Indie Hip-Hop. The interplay between the two vocalists, which necessitates avoiding Linkin Park comparisons like the metaphorical plague, is as captivating as it ever was. But the real star of the show is the instrumental section of the band. The classic line-up of guitar, bass, and drums is supplemented by viola and trumpet, which gives the Flobots’ sound a delightfully Jazzy bend, adopting by turns elements of Ska, Reggae, or Blues. Despite the angry, unadulterated political content of their lyrics, the band never loses their sense for a snazzy melody and a danceable groove. In fact, now that I think about it, the Flobots are like a musically less aggressive and more joyful version of Rage Against The Machine. RATM light, if you will, without the screaming and distorted guitars, but no less enjoyable.
Family’s debut, and so far only, album Portrait is for me one of those rare gems that you sometimes stumble over, quite by accident, and fall in love with immediately. These guys have obviously taken a leaf or two out of Mastodon’s playbook, but sprinkled some freshly ground Led Zeppelin-esque Hard Rock and powdered Tool proggyness on their meaty version of modern Metal. It has groove, it has all of the rage, it has the bludgeon capacity of a bloody baseball-bat with a nail in it. Seriously, while this is not the heaviest or most abrasive band ever – their sensibilities for a good Rock melody go way too deep for that – this is not for the faint of heart either.
The arrangements bounce back and forth through all kinds of tempos, riffs, and moods. Plenty of dynamic peaks and valleys in the landscape of Portrait guarantee that the trek is never unexciting; and there are some genuinely breathtaking moments, like when, two minutes into the blistering opener “Bridge and Tunnel”, Family digs into a massive and grinding riff and drummer Smith decides to kick in the double bass for a spell. It’s a simple, yet blood boilingly and fist pumpingly awesome moment.
There’s not much more to it, really. If you, like me, are an admirer of bands such as Mastodon and Baroness (who were actually featured in this very column a couple of months ago), but also Soundgarden and Tool, then do yourself a favour and head over their Bandcamp page to listen to Portrait in its entirety. It’s just so damn good.
Author’s Note: Apologies for the lack of an accompanying video here, but finding a high quality recording of Family on youtube really isn’t easy. Try typing Family Portrait into the search bar and see what you find. Hint: It’s Pink.
Jonas was listening to soundtracks of silent films while writing.