Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Red Fang—Murder the Mountains (Relapse)
What’s the angle on Red Fang? Well, there’s the beer-fueled, Pythonesque hilarity of the “Prehistoric Dog” video. I got on board after catching that, I’ll admit. There’s the Portland angle. Who doesn’t like Portland? Place is awesome. There’s the “produced by a Decemberist” angle, but that’s hardly an angle. It’s not like Red Fang are suddenly writing fantastical folk songs to be savoured by NPR listeners (and me). They rock, and hard. How about the fact that they’re on Relapse Records, purveyors of fine grind? Nah, Relapse embraces all genres of fine music these days. Fact is, Red Fang don’t need an angle. You just gotta hear them. I’m feeling pretty evangelical about Murder the Mountains, similar to how I felt about Harvey Milk’s Life…The Best Game in Town. The resemblance is superficial—the two bands’ demeanours are quite different. Red Fang are more sociable than Harvey Milk, but in terms of big American rock with great riffs and unexpected, unabashed catchiness, I get the same feeling from both albums. Red Fang mainly operate in two modes, combining a thudding, Melvins-like approach and a breezier, QOTSA kind of feel. One mode often dominates a song. “Into the Eye” and “Throw Up” are two of the most bruising tracks, while “Wires” and “Number Thirteen” have the shuffle going on, and are massively catchy. The alternating styles mesh well, and give the album that most valuable, old-fashioned quality of being able to tell the damn songs apart. The best thing about these songs, however, is that they go interesting places. Although they follow a three- to five-minute verse/chorus format, there’s always a cunning segue into an instrumental break or other digression that wakes me up from my rock trance thinking, “Wait, how did we end up here?” The best example might be “Wires”—the scuffed-up glam stomp heads into the orchestra pit, where guest Jenny Conlee’s keyboards take over and we’re suddenly prog-rockin’ for a stretch until another colossal riff—the kind of riff that can only end a song because it cannot be topped—breaks out. Sure, Red Fang can write memorable riffs and vocal lines, but this drive to explore what can happen within a song provides the X factor that’s made this one of my favourite albums of 2011 so far. Beyond the bearded, beer-swilling trappings there lies the souls of true rock ‘n’ roll craftsmen. And I’ll hoist a tall can to that.