I have something you don’t have. No, it’s not one of the few remaining African wedgefish left in the wild - it’s the new Friend or Foe album, My Claw Is Never Limp, and it’s rockin’. Rabshakeh and Mahanehdan, whose names I consistently misspelled in the album’s artwork, has asked that only “Lie to Me” and “Double Down” be posted online for now, so I’ll respect that in my own way by delving extensively into just those two tracks. And so, to quote the former, “Don’t ask stupid questions that I ain’t askin’ you”. I wonder why they didn’t realize I’d fucked up the spelling of their names. After all, they must have looked at the artwork hundreds of times by now. But hey, it’s out of my hands now. Totally not my fault at all. Nice work there, Manny & Rabby. Which is almost like Rabbi. “Rabbi Schacke” could totally be an old Jewish holy man.
Moving on. At first listen, MCINL is a confident statement by a, let’s say, experimental wonk-grunge band eager to represent all sides of itself at once. Weengrunge, maybe. From a songwriting perspective, they’ve certainly achieved this goal. Having been exposed to most of these tracks for over a year now, finally having codified versions on tape still feels nice. And all my favorite moments from their live shows are here. The squealing guitar effect on beat one of the main riff in “Smith & Wesson,” the delayed melody in the inconveniently titled “I Don’t Wanna Touch It, But I Need It,” the wailing, chills-inducing intro to “Snortin’ Clorox,” the quick one-handed 16th notes on the high-hat in “Crazy Eye,” it’s all there.
Friend or Foe take no prisoners with their opening track, the punishing “Terrorized”. They’ve kept drummer Mahanehdan’s quick four-click count at the beginning, which throws the listener immediately into a brutal, man boob-jiggling, punked-out riff. This song, as do many of the others on the album, features extensive use of two vocal effects: double-tracking and layered effects. But I’m not complaining about having two Rabbi Schackes instead of one.
Before I reveal too many secrets, let’s move onto track two, the always-fun “Lie to Me”. Opening with a White Stripes-y four-chord progression, Mahanehdan announces the first verse with a flurry of notes on the snare. Rabshakeh’s voice, a bit too compressed here for my tastes, still cuts through, raw as ever, over heavily fuzzed guitar, doubled on the bass, propelled by driving drums. Mahanehdan accents the final “Give it to me” on the snare, and then it’s chorus time. Several unison hits punctuate the end of the chorus – though I’m not quite sure in this song which part is the verse, and which is the chorus. Both progressions hold equal weight, an uncertainty I find myself enjoying. After two cycles, adorned with melodic guitar riffage, the song dips into an unexpected half-time funk section, six beats on and two beats off. Four phrases of that and we’re back into the main riff for a ripping guitar solo, courtesy of the Rabbi, over which he screams repeatedly at this paramour of his to just say what he wants to hear. “Lie to me, baby. I don’t care if it’s true or not.” We’ve all been there.
“Crazy Eye” is a sensible track to follow with, as the aforementioned half-time section in “Lie to Me” serves as a bit of foreshadowing. Scruples dictate I point out that the “I’m movin’ on” section is directly lifted from Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood,” though the words are altered from the original’s “My future, it’s coming on, it’s coming on, it’s coming on.” We’ll chalk that one up to subconscious thievery, which I find myself doing all the fucking time.
Let’s pop over to “Double Down,” which has long been my favorite FoF track and the other one that I’m allowed to discuss at length. This song oozes grime. Opening with the tantalizing jingle of a slot machine, a big crash from Mahanehdan gets things rolling with downbeats on the kick, palm-muted guitar (with bass in unison), and a little teaser of the song’s signature high-hat pattern before the verse. The Rabbi’s voice is slimier than an obese man\'s perineum, and subtle double-tracking in the chorus makes it even creepier: “Gotta make that money, gotta make that money, gotta make that cash.” Damn straight, Rabbi. Tension is built and maintained throughout the first two minutes of the song, as the narrator laments his situation and comes to the last of his chip stack. And then it’s time to DOUBLE DOOOOWN, DOUBLE DOOOOWN! With just a bit of warning from Mahanehdan’s ride cymbal, the listener is cock-smacked with this track’s big fat dick of a chorus, double-time with quarter note triplets on the guitar and bass. The story progresses downward still as our pitiful gambling addict of narrator throws away even more of his family’s money. This song continues to shine as my favorite FoF track, and though I’m not sure how much of the arrangement Nichols vs. the band are responsible for, everyone did a badass job of making it incredibly rounded-out and well-organized. The track comes around full-circle with the slot machines again at the end. FoF, make this track the one you push to all those blogs and shit during your weekly band promo session.
I’d like to make a few statements about the production. Clement Pony and Laura Ingalls, collectively known as Acid Pony Club, are the ones to whom FoF turned to make their shit sound presentable. And most of the time, they do. Tracks like “Burnt Out Buildings” and “Double Down,” amongst others, sound full and broad, with clearly defined bass playing that the listener doesn’t need to strain to hear. Rabshakeh’s vocals are double-tracked and harmonized subtly enough to avoid distracting the listener while still being present enough in the mix to be recognized, even subconsciously. Unfortunately, another of my favorite tracks, “Snortin’ Clorox,” seems to have gotten the short end of the stick. And I don’t want to blame APC exclusively; I don’t know how many decisions were made by the band or the producers. In any case, “Clorox” just doesn’t sound like it belongs. The filtered drums make the song feel out of place compared with the fuller production of the other tracks, and there’s scarcely any low end on the track at all – the instruments in general sound stepped-on and muffled. It’s just…quieter than the others, a shame since it’s one of the band’s most rocking songs. That compression effect on the vocals from “Lie to Me” is back, and the lead guitar, which is jarringly loud and clean, is distracting by way of its dissimilarity to the rest of the instruments. The same can be said of this song as compared to the others on the album. It almost sounds as though it was a studio demo, with lead guitar thrown in and the entire song included on the album as an afterthought. Though the “WTF was that” feeling is quickly eased by the comforting cushiness of “Burnt Out Buildings,” up next.
Now, this may have been done for effect, as the song is evocative of older-generation lo-fi punk. If that’s the case, then great job – you guys nailed it. If not, well…yeah.
On the whole, however, I’m liking what I’m hearing. And I wish wish wish I could tell you more about the album’s closer, “Almost Too Much”. I’d never heard this song before – FoF, change this immediately! This song is beautiful. Rabshakeh’s voice is finally allowed to shine, un-fucked-with, and it’s a wonderful thing. The harmonies and vocal delivery evoke eMOTIVe-era A Perfect Circle, especially on their cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Fiddle and the Drum”. I could listen to this track on repeat all day. Rabshakeh managed to make his Smashing Pumpkins-influenced signature guitar tone somehow fit in with the clean tones present elsewhere on the song, and once the beat kicks in, it calls to mind several of my favorite tracks by melancholic Japanese rockers Straightener (get familiar). FoF, you’ve gotta bust this one out live. Use as many guest musicians as it takes to include all the parts. They’re all essential, and this song needs to be put on display.
I hope you’ve had the patience to get all the way to the end of this review. The album is much easier to listen to, I promise, and will be over before you can say “Mahanehdan’s meritoriously measurable man boobs” 10 times fast. It has just the right trace amount of sloppiness to make it endearing and approachable. It flows – aside from the “Clorox” bit I touched on earlier – and ably serves as a comprehensive representation of one of Shanghai’s more energetic live bands. Check it out at the listening party at Dada on November 3rd, and then watch them play the tracks live at the November 12th release party at Yuyintang, with Duck Fight Goose, Rainbow Danger Club, Death to Giants, and Acid Pony Club supporting.
Oooh, “Terrorized” just came on again. Punch yourself in the dick/vag/unsightly scar, this album both rocks hard and funks deliciously.