It took almost three years, but California punk icons FIDLAR finally released their third album, Almost Free, this past January. After getting over my initial disappointment in the fact that the album wasn’t called “Three” (as a sequel to 2015’s Too, and as an affront at the entire concept of creative album titles,) what struck me most about the album was its sheer stylistic breadth. FIDLAR aren’t generally a very experimental band, which is something I thank them for, but careful listening to their discography nonetheless reveals a variety of FIDLAR-musical-shades, almost all of which were on display somewhere or another in Almost Free. Despite being just the band’s third LP, the new album sounds something like a FIDLAR retrospective, seemlessly melding together Too‘s more produced sound with the brashness of their self-titled first LP and even borrowing some elements from the band’s litany of EP and single releases. Anyone who’s ever liked a FIDLAR album will find something they like in this one, but towards the end of Almost Free we begin hearing something a bit more novel. Far from simply being a re-hash of their earlier work, Almost Free hints at some possible new directions for the band, and manages to do so without alienating fans of more classic FIDLAR.
The album barrels out the gates with “Get off My Rock” and “Can’t You See,” two extremely stripped-down jabs at gentrified Californian aloofness that recall very early FIDLAR songs like “Crackhead Ted”. Zac Carper’s manic vocals are the focus of both tracks, with little in the way of instrumental backing and an array of strange audio samples that contribute to the tone of simmering tension that pervade the songs.
Later on in the album, Almost Free takes a turn for the pensive with “Too Real” and “Kick.” Despite their well-earned reputation as avatars of juvenile reckless abandon, FIDLAR has always been extremely adept at tapping into darker notes on songs like “Overdose” or “Paycheck.” These eerie odes to desperation and addiction in Los Angeles have always helped to cultivate FIDLAR’s gritty authenticity, and “Kick” in particular certainly carries on in that tradition, but Almost Free also has a sharper political message than any prior FIDLAR album. Songs like “Too Real” or “Thought. Mouth,” whose opening verse refers to California as “a bunch of trustees living on a beach,” certainly contain a more explicit social critique than is typical for FIDLAR. Of course, this being FIDLAR, the exact message that we’re supposed to pick up isn’t quite clear, with more of an emphasis on general undirected outrage than Desaparecidos-esque attacks on specific social ills.
Finally, the last couple songs on the album, including the closing track, “Good Times Are Over,” showcase a markedly different sound from anything that FIDLAR has done previously. The seemingly personal nature of the lyrics recalls songs like “Stupid Decisions” from Too, but there’s a sort of early-2000s grunginess to the song that defies easy analogy to FIDLAR’s other work. While certainly different, this newer sound still meshes well with the album, and little touches like Carper’s throat-shredding backing vocals at the end of the song are still classic FIDLAR.
All in all, the long wait seems to have been entirely worth it for FIDLAR fans. The new songs are distinct without signalling a major break with the material we already love, and songs like “Alcohol” and “Flake” seem well-poised to become live-show favorites. Listen to Almost Free on Spotify, buy it on iTunes, and if you have the chance, I cannot recommend FIDLAR’s live performances highly enough.