“I’m a little bit country” “I’m a little bit rock ‘n’ roll” sang two wise siblings all those years ago. It’s highly unlikely, well impossible actually, that Donnie and Marie were talking about Fists, but it’s fun to imagine that they were.
Phantasm, the Nottingham group’s debut album, is perhaps the least Midlands-sounding album ever. I have no idea what the Midlands sound actually is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Americana-tinged garage rock. With distinctly American influences Fists could quite easily fall flat on their collective big round face, but the quality of the tunes and the ramshackle nature of the recordings adds an adhering warmth to these little garage urchins. The group never sound anything other than genuine, which is more than can be said for a lot of supposedly authentic US slacker-rock.
Opener ‘Go’ demonstrates this perfectly, the shrill vocals and unhinged guitar twangs are a welcome antidote to the lazy reverberations and half arsed vocals of the majority of today’s weed induced youth. Like the best garage rock bands, Fists have the attitude and the tunes - there’s no hiding behind walls of reverberation with this lot.
‘Skull’ is every great Monks record blended into one beautiful, fuzzy, mess. The bass swings and spins, creating that psychedelic sensation of feeling out of control but quite enjoying it. Like all of the best psychedelia there is not even a hint of any guitar noodling, which is good, as nobody likes guitar noodling, unless you’re into prog rock, heavy metal and showing off, and if you are, this record probably isn’t for you.
After being lured into a garage rock safety net the album takes a southern fried turn, hitting you right in the ear holes with some country rock. Again you don’t think twice that the group are making music that has no right to come out of the middle of England, as it just sounds so natural. ‘New Clothes’ and ‘OMG’ gallop along pleasantly, like a sort of two part soundtrack to a twee western, probably with Michael Cera cast in the role of the awkward virgin cowboy hero who has to save the girl from the evil bartender, played by Woody Harrelson.
The run of country tinged tracks climaxes with the mammoth ‘Yr Glove’. The track builds and builds and builds until it eventually explodes, into a - you guessed it - haunting country ballad. Whilst these tracks show the band can do the whole slow song thing, after all of the ramshackle rock it’s a bit of a mood killer, like the aural equivalent of that feeling you get when reach the end of those walk on conveyer belt thingys in airports and have to start walking on the normal floor again. It’s not that normal walking is bad, it’s just that super-fast walking is a lot more fun.
This slight lull suggests that Fists might be better off with a little less country and a little more rock and roll, but at least they aren’t afraid to try something different, which is more than can be said of a lot of today’s hip guitar slingers. Slackers take note; reverb is not your friend.
6Jack Doherty's Score