FIDLAR might not self-identify as a party band anymore, but they’re still fun as hell. The L.A. punk rockers’ first two albums have resulted in a collective caricature that they’ve somewhat pushed back on, but aren’t 100% ready to disown. Since their 2013 self-titled debut, they’ve generally been viewed as stoned skater punks (even though they don’t skate) who like to party, but after a few too many hangovers and drug overdoses, the band who got it’s name from the phrase, “Fuck it dog, Life’s a risk,” is finally starting to mellow. After two albums with enough drug and beer references to fill an entire decade’s worth of rock albums, the band finally hit a wall. Now creeping into their thirties and with frontman Zac Carper trying to stay clean after a few brushes with death from heroin use, FIDLAR aren’t living to the max anymore, but like all of us, they’re still coping with how to become functioning adults.
Their third album, Almost Free, opens with a faint siren, dog barks and Zac Carper’s rowdy yelps (“Well excuse me motherfucker / You’re on my rock”), and though Carper deserves some credit for the polite “excuse me,” it’s the f-bomb that proves FIDLAR haven’t abandoned the brashness that makes them so appealing. Once the aggressive horns start wailing, the bluesy slide guitar kicks in and hip-hop scratches begin to surface, it makes you wonder if psychedelics told them this was a good idea. Though the genre-melding is a bit clunky, it’s those grating screams and confrontational lyrics about irritating quirks from Californians that warrant a big fat smirk and the urge to yell the words out your car window (“Big fuckin’ deal if you get gentrified / Back in the day it was called colonized / So when you’re on vacation trying to find yourself / Just remember to / Get off my rock”).
“Can’t You See” takes a turn with its blues rock approach and much more reserved vocals and though it will likely appease new fans, I’d imagine some FIDLAR fans being repulsed by its lack of moshability. “By Myself” is a more successful blending of their punk brazenness and a more tuneful, sunny sound. On the track, Carper drops one of the best lines on the album with some laugh-out-loud humor and at times painful, but ultimately worthwhile, self-reflection (“I’m cracking one open with the boys by myself / And everybody thinks that I need professional help / But I don’t wanna think about that anymore / And just because I woke up on someone’s floor / And asked who the fuck am I / I didn’t know it felt good to cry”). The harsh vocals and straightforward chorus refrain of “Alcohol” contains the most evidence of their more primitive beginnings, but it doesn’t pack quite as big of a punch. The brass-filled, blues instrumental and title track is one of the biggest surprises here. The Stones-like stomper is a nice change of pace and the similarly horn-centric subsequent track, “Scam Likely,” is a surprisingly charming affair that still fits into the FIDLAR universe. “Called You Twice,” the acoustic track featuring sweet shared vocals from K. Flay, and lyrics of romantic vulnerability is a sonic departure that pays dividends, but the cheeky political quips, ironic jab at electronic music and chilling vocal panting can’t save the EDM-noise mashup “Too Real.”
The closer “Good Times Are Over” uplifts the album’s lackluster b-side and its unapologetic embrace of pop-punk infectiousness shows they can still nail a hook, even though they’re may be a few too many growing pains to forgive on this LP. Carper’s tongue-in-cheek social commentary and emotional transparency is the one consistent point of strength across the record with lines like “I take my Adderall with milk and sugar” and “Yeah I started from the bottom and I’m still at the bottom.” Carper’s lyrics are the perfect manifesto for aging punks who are still trying to figure themselves out, kick bad habits and make sense of the dystopian present. While FIDLAR benefit from cleaned-up production, the hit-or-miss, albeit courageous, tracklist is indicative of a band that’s still workshopping their sound.