American Fangs, American Fangs
These days, it’s no picnic being a rock band. Hey, quit laughing — I’m serious, dammit. It really isn’t an easy deal lately, I swear, and here’s why: because everybody wants to be in a rock band, and yet fewer and fewer people out there seem to want to hear that tried-and-true guitar-rock sound, the kind that doesn’t need any prefixes or suffixes or subgenres.
Straight-ahead, no-frills rawk isn’t what The Kids are listening; they want EDM or chillwave or folk-pop or post-emo or whatever the hell the current Flavor of the Week happens to be. And don’t get me wrong — I like that stuff, too, but rock doesn’t fit in with any of that; it’s not about what’s popular, and it never has been, which is why it’s soldiered on through the decades, even at other times when it seemed like it was the last thing the listening public wanted.
To make matters worse, frankly, 95% of all rock bands just aren’t very good. Some flat-out suck, sure, but a far greater percentage of ’em are just eh, not even worth that kind of a visceral reaction. They’re not terrible, but they’re just not doing it quite right, somehow; they’re trying too hard, they’re relying too much on gimmickry, they’re rehashing riffs and sounds that should’ve been dead ages ago, whatever. It’s enough that these days when I hear a new single from some big-name rock band, I just shake my head and wonder how we ever got to this point.
Then, from the side of the stage (where they’ve probably been hanging out for a while, snickering at the guys onstage before ’em), enter American Fangs, and the room utterly explodes. I’ve been dying for these guys to release a followup to their debut EP for years now, and here they come with their new self-titled full-length album, and holy fuck yes does it feel like all my prayers have been answered.
These guys are what a Rock Band’s meant to be: full-on guitars, loud and rough while not carving up your eardrums, fist-in-the-air choruses, subtle melodies, lyrics that veer from fuck-it-let’s-party to more thoughtful musings, and a whole hell of a lot of sweat and blood left out on the stage. They play like they’d rather be doing nothing else in the damn world, and the energy roars out of the speakers/headphones/whatever like a raging river.
Fans of the band will know a lot of the songs on American Fangs, naturally, from the now-classic “Le Kick” and “Sorry” (both of which were on the EP) to newer-yet-well-worn tracks like “River You Bought” (which I first heard back in 2011) and “Pomona” (which the band released earlier this year), but this is still a heck of an assemblage of songs. American Fangs had to re-release “Le Kick,” of course — it’s practically the band’s theme song, at this point — and I’m glad to hear it, although yeah, there’s a part of me that’ll always stay loyal to the original. But hell, that rawness is still there, the guitars still punch you in the face and smile when you spit out your bloody teeth, so who cares?
Then there’s the snarling, snapping, sarcastic stomp of “Riot Food,” with its sharp-edged guitars and ridiculously catchy chorus, the heavy, sing-song-y “Gimme Gimme,” and the fun, fun, fun party-down vibe of “Pomona,” is the kind of song you can fully imagine blasting out over a crowd of wide-grinning, sweaty kids rocking out in some basement party (somewhere where they actually have basements, obviously) the likes of which probably never happens in real life. And one of the album’s highlights is the aforementioned “River You Bought,” a total gutpunch of a song and a lot of fucking fun to howl along to while blazing down the freeway.
Don’t take all that rock fury to mean these guys can’t or won’t slow things down a bit, though. Another highlight (probably my new favorite song from these guys, honestly) is “Sorry,” which is awesome not least of all because there’s a great vulnerability to it. When frontman Gabe Cavazos howls, “Are we good enough to stay here / in your house?”, it’s bitter but sincere and pleading, with all the nerves laid wide-open to be kicked at. At the same time, there’s this gorgeous, furious guitar riff and melody that carries things along.
“Pass It Along” is slower, as well, with a murky, almost grunge-y sound to it — in the verses, in particular, I keep thinking of Alice in Chains — as is the heartfelt, sweet “Man in the Sun,” which brings to mind the Foo Fighters, at least for me. In fact, I come back to the Foos for a lot of American Fangs, not because these guys sound like Dave Grohl and company but because they’re one of the few modern rock bands out there that can play loud, heavy songs and gentle, fragile ones without it sounding forced. American Fangs have that skill, too, and trust me, it’s a rare thing.
(Feature photo by Kenyon Saylor White.)