While many may decry rock music as dead, Fat White Family’s garage-punk sleaze proves it has at least one more filthy road to travel, says Daniel Jones.
Rock music has pretty much hit a wall in terms of forward-thinking; there’s just not many places for it to go at this point, if any. Even the phrase ‘rock music’ sounds like something your grandpa would say. So when a rock band comes along with even mildly catchy music, it’s easier to just shrug and go, “Well, sure, okay; that’s fine.” How else can you possibly explain the success of Mumford & Sons? Once in a while, however, some bastard sneaks into the musical ice cream factory and dumps toxic waste in the vats of vanilla. That’s where things like Fat White Family are born.
The Fam have been called the best band in London right now, with comparisons ranging from the unchained weirdness of The Birthday Party to the swampy lovelorn Gun Club. While those are certainly apt starting points, the 11 tracks on their debut album Champagne Holocaust have a modernist decadence to them that speaks of eyes more empty than bright—this isn’t music for thrashing, but rather for shambling. From the opening psychedelic licks of “Auto Neutron”, The Fam’s bluesy, disinterested punk shimmies beneath the skin. You can almost hear the down-heel boots clomping along to the beat on the dirty bar floor, struggling against that moment when they know they must leave their ass-warmed chairs and head back into the hateful sunlight. There’s a lot of the Americana romance to the album, be they songs postulating the nature of Lee Harvey Oswald’s death or gold rush-era prairies. It’s a fascination I didn‘t really get back when I was listening to all those Theatre of Hate albums, and I’m not sure I get it now—so I ask you, British people: why do you guys romance our past so much? Aside from the whole inventing R&B thing, I mean.
There’s more than a touch of the soundtrack aspect to Champagne Holocaust, the tracks arranged to form a modern outlaw tale of dirty desert deals gone wrong, a sweat-drenched paranoia like the offspring of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. “Without Consent” swaggers like the most disreputable gigolo in town, giving way to the hog-killin’ squeals and shrieks of “Special Ape”. By this point, the album has hit a stride of garage-punk monsters, so as much as tracks like “Heaven On Earth” and the manic “Bomb Disneyland” make the nasty drunk in me rise up on shaky legs, it’s the touches of gentleness that stand out a bit more—gentle like the breeze of old cigarette smoke, anyway. “Cream Of The Young”‘ floats about on a simple Casio beat and raw chords, while album closer “Garden Of The Numb” cements the theme of nodding-off hatred apparent throughout: “I see you on the corner with your friends. I can only hope it won’t be long for them.” Smash-cut to filthy, yellowed curtains sliding closed.
Fat White Family’s sound is special not because of any particular uniqueness; aside from the aforementioned older comparisons, more modern acts like Bird Blobs, Preacher & The Knife, New Thrill Parade, and myriad others have poked and prodded at various levels of nihilistic garage and Americana. What set the Fam apart is the wonderfully ugly use of musical mythology in their sound and performance—it’s almost like a parody story of all of the overblown nastiness that makes up rock’s history, which I suppose would make this a soundtrack after all. To be honest, I can’t think of one more appropriate.
Fat White Family’s Champagne Holocaust is out April 1st on Trashmouth Records.