A couple guitars, a bass, drums, distortion pedals, some riffs, and half-crazed snarled/yelped vocals — honestly, do you really need anything else? No; no, you most definitely do not. MODFAG prove the case here with their debut full-length, Paradisio, which is banged together from the elements above and not a damn thing else and which rocks the fucking doors off.
Paradisio starts with a bang and barely pauses for breath from there (with the exception maybe of the quieter, more countrified “Cuzzin Of Mine”), charging in with woozy, snarling garage-rocker “I Live In A Cave,” where frontman Jimmy Sanchez sounds weirdly proud when he howls that he makes his home in (yes, obviously) a cave. The album then surges into the more bluesy/drone-y “Comin’ From Above,” which has a rhythm that serenely drifts along more than it runs but is still firmly in the garage camp, with fiery guitar solos and Sanchez’s unhinged, desperate vocals.
“Hey Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut” is bouncy and threatening, despite sounding like it came straight off some long-lost ’60s compilation, and then “Diary Of Love” takes a hazy turn, like a trek across the desert on a horse that’s about to give out any damn second now; “Wounded Knee” comes off similarly, rambling and dusty. “Levitation” is messy and psych-rock-like, while “Lord Jim On The Avenue” rides a great, great, surprisingly delicate melody riff that’s more Ventures than anything else right up to the top of the pile (for me, anyway).
Then there’s “Bellaire Jail,” which made me chuckle at first, until I realized: what’s the worst place a Montrose-dwelling, hard-drinking, shit-starting garage-rocker could ever possibly end up? In jail in squeaky-clean, over-paranoid Bellaire, of course, with their amped-up cops riding herd on everybody. It’s a great track, too, buzzing and fast but never getting too crazy — the train never truly comes off the rails, although it comes close.
And naturally, since these guys are all about remembering their roots, the last song on here is a Rik L. Rik cover, “Meat House”; it’s faster and brighter than a lot of the MODFAG originals, the more overtly punk influence laid bare, and it doesn’t sound quite the same without Rik’s lower-pitched vocals, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s hard to listen to MODFAG without comparing the band’s sound to that of the component members’ other bands, I have to admit. These guys — guitarist/vocalist Sanchez, guitarist Steven Jones, bassist Bill Fool, and drummer Carl Chambless — have done time in damn near every garage and street-rock band in Houston from the past decade, including Gun Crazy, The Wrong Ones, The Freakouts, and, most crucially, Born Liars, so there’s a lot of baggage that gets dragged along there.
It’s Born Liars that I come back to most of all, whether consciously or not; Sanchez is the voice for both bands, and Fool’s the anchor that keeps ’em solid, so it’s hard to escape, especially on the scraping, belligerently brusque “Caution Child,” where Sanchez is seemingly warning a youngster not to fuck around.
Where the Born Liars are a nitro-burning hot rod that goes one speed only, though, Modfag is a polished-and-powerful (but still rough around the edges) muscle car. Maybe this is what a band of more mature, more solid, more wide-ranging garage-rockers sounds like? There’re fewer sharp bits, there’s a bit more depth, and there’s that Spaghetti-surf sound that pokes its head out from time to time — and yeah, I catch myself grinning every time it does. Plug in those guitars and go; that’s all you really need, right?