In the winter of 2010 I found myself in a rare moment of musical despair. A rut, you could say. Lucky for me, indie-rockers Fang Island were primed to release their self-titled debut record. Fang Island was the most refreshing record I had heard in years. It didn’t take itself too seriously and was insanely catchy while retaining a high level of instrumental artistry, making it clear these guys were talented. Ridiculously talented. The record stayed in my personal rotation well into the summer, even making a few appearances come fall. When I caught wind of their follow-up record, Major, I was engulfed in excitement. Then I began to wonder if the initial magic of my first encounter with Fang Island would be lost the second time around. Would they sound as fresh when I knew what to expect?
The magic is still there.
Major, much like Fang Island before it, is a tour de force of instrumental intricacy, led by guitar riffs that will have you rocking without inhibition from the first second, and won’t leave your head anytime soon. There’s so much going on that I won’t even begin to pretend that I know how it was done, just know that it sounds incredible. There are certainly changes the second time around. Major sees more of an emphasis on vocals, an element that the band seemed almost timid to approach on their debut. It’s a natural progression, and one I fully expected. With the added emphasis on vocals comes an emphasis on lyricism, which I’ll get into later. At the epicenter, though, remains the instrumentation. Nothing is more important on the record than the layered guitars, drums, and whatever else is thrown in that I can’t even decipher. The most notable change instrumentally is the added role of keys. Piano riffs, particularly on “Victorinian,” are equally impressive to the guitar licks which I already raved about, and will continue to for the rest of this review. You can take that as a warning if you’d like. No one is writing riffs, hell, arrangements, as catchy as Fang Island in the music industry today. If there is a band somewhere out there that has the chops to challenge them, I have yet to hear it. Major is a perfect summer record. It’s upbeat, fun, and it moves.
Take “Dooney Rock.” Possibly my favorite track from the album, though it’s hard to choose. “Dooney” does more with three and a half minutes and no vocals than practically every song gracing the Top 40. It hits the chorus and dares you not to dance. Dares you not to succumb to your inner child who wishes you would let loose and rock out a little more. It dares you. And you lose. Every. Time.
As I mentioned before, on their first record, it seemed as though Fang Island was apprehensive to fully delve into the world of vocal arrangements to accompany their stellar instrumentation. On Major, that apprehension is almost non-existent. The focus is still on the instruments more than anything, but few tracks are completely devoid of some sort of vocal line. Most of them are pretty simple, you won’t see any mind bending runs or melodies or harmonies, but they fit Fang Island’s sound, and do what they’re meant to, fleshing out the songs and making them fully rounded. Lyrically, many of the songs rely on heavy repetition, my only real fault with the record. At the end of the day, though, it’s nitpicking, because I put less focus on the lyrics at work here than I normally would. The music carries the record, as I expected it to.
Ever the bag full of contradictions, Pitchfork chastised Fang Island for brimming with positivity. In our world, we have more than enough inspiration to create something dour. Every once in a while we need a record that tells us to have fun, to not worry about whatever it is that keeps us looking over our shoulder. Even if it’s just for 40 minutes or so.
They say it’s better on Fang Island. They’re right.
Standouts: “Kindergarten,” “Sisterly,” “Seek It Out,” “Make Me,” “Never Understand,” “Dooney Rock,” “Victorinian”