steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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Wax Fang

"La La Land" CD

Absolutely Kosher

Genre: indie rock opera

Louisville, KY

May 2010

Louisville, Kentucky's Wax Fang are a dynamic, exuberant bunch, and they fit these ten songs with a dramatic enthusiasm that leaves me wondering why I'm not more hooked than I am. I'm sure I won't be the only one commenting on lead singer Scott Carney's Broadway-esque vocals, all grandiose and expressive, nor their seamless compatibility with the band's boppy, excited instrumentation. But the songwriting's animated showiness is sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, most of these songs are intense, busy bundles of high-wire energy. Which is good, particularly if you're in the mood. On the other hand, the melodies – overt, major-key creations – are somehow generic, seeming already-too-familiar right off the bat, meaning few individual songs really snag you by the collar and force you in.

It's a frustrating aspect to La La Land, but don't interpret it as overwhelmingly damning. Because, first of all, it isn't universally true. Consider “Cannibal Summer,” a delectable lump of pop that sees Wax Fang do what they do best: merge bright melody with evocative lyrics inflected with a healthy dose of black humour. It begins with a minute-long fragment of Quasi-esque sweetness before raging ahead into a riveting rock song replete with juicy power chords, cymbal-heavy, percussive squalor, and some good ol' shredding. Throw in grimly portentous lyrics like “What a terrible evening/It's been a cannibal summer/Everybody's eating themselves up/Over nothing” and you've got yourself a winner. Elsewhere, epic closer “Wake Up, Sleepyhead!” rides by in an impeccable clamour of sweltering guitars, call-to-arms vocals, and rhythmic intensity – it's a pure feel-good journey which ranks as this record's indubitably best moment.

Yet, other songs maintain the blistering tempo but lack the impeccable hooks – “Can You See the Light?” is good and zippy but low on repeat value, and while “Majestic” boasts a gnarly rock opera aesthetic, it's also a somehow unsatisfying hum. These tracks are riveting creations to behold – performed live, they must make for quite the exhibition – but it's their blistering climaxes which seem to imperil the band's sound. The guitars get turned up, and Carney is forced into the upper boundaries of his register; in the end, the vocal melodies often lack potency. Fortunately, a lot of the time, as on raging “World War II (Pt. 2),” the songs' wily exuberance masks the deficits in pop hookery.

Hence, this turns out to be a strong but somewhat imperfect sophomore album from this enthusiastic lot. I'm curious to find out whether their next effort will supply the sorts of cataclysmic hooks the band's kinetic compositions deserve, because those moments on La La Land which achieve this balance are nothing short of sublime.

wax fang's myspace


Michael Tau

[Vitals: 10 tracks, distributed by the label, released May 11, 2010]