White Fang Grateful to Shred

[Marriage; 2011]

Styles: punk, hardcore, lo-fi, stoner humor
Others: Pens, The Whines, Reatards

Grateful to Shred, the fourth album in almost as many years from snot-nosed Portlanders White Fang, is neck-and-neck with Andrew W.K.’s The “Party All Goddamn Night” EP for least ambiguously titled release of 2011. True to its name, Grateful to Shred is about big guitar played fast and recorded on the shittiest equipment available. Over the course of 11 tracks, front man Eric Gage and his compatriots throw subtlety to the wind, and then shoot at it with a bazooka mounted on the sidecar of a flaming motorcycle.

The title track says it all, a brash, sloppy thrasher that breaks midway into an impromptu cover of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting).” ”I’m grateful to shred/ Sooner or later gonna wind up dead,” Gage wails over a swampy stew of barely discernible guitar riffs. It’s hard not to take that declaration at face value. Barring a pair of jokey stoner tracks, “I Can’t Find My Weed” and “Gnar Shred” (the latter a reworking Pure Evil’s closing track as a hippy drum circle sing-along), the songs consistently run into the red. The band brings an enthusiasm so pure and infectious to their recorded work that it becomes too easy to overlook their other admirable qualities. “Not Listening” shows off White Fang’s skill as songwriters, opening with a pensive guitar figure reminiscent of Nirvana’s “Penny Royal Tea” and gradually picking up steam as it barrels towards its punky conclusion, with nary a note wasted. And while they do their best to bury him under the lo-est of lo-fi recording techniques, Kyle Handley is a pretty good guitar player (just listen to the fingertapping on “Funny Disguises”).

But while Grateful is a delight and one of the best guitar rock albums I’ve heard all year, it still feels a bit slight. The only way I can think to explain this is through illustration, so let’s take “Fuck up a Fascist (I’m Down).” It’s the most straight-laced punk song on the album, a throwback to 80s hardcore in both theme and structure. One can’t hear the title without being reminded of the volatility surrounding nearly every early punk scene: of songs like The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off” or of stories like the one about Glenn Danzig and Bobby Steele fending off skinheads with shards of glass on the streets of London. But this feels disingenuous in the year 2011, where you’re more likely to run into violent confrontation at a major sporting event than at a punk show. It’s like they’re playing dress-up, putting on one set of conventions for one song and then ditching them for another on the next. You get a cheeky tribute, but not much in the way of meaningful exploration or extension of the traditions they’re playing with. This is common among musical artists in this postmodern age, but perhaps it’s simply losing a little of its charm for me.

In spite of this, Grateful to Shred is a solid album that oozes raw, energetic punk scuzz, seasoned with a sly sense of humor and strong musicianship. It’s worth seeking out, if only to use as a palate cleanser in between this season’s umpteenth retro new wave dance revival records.

Links: White Fang - Marriage

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