Album Review: When The Madhouses Appear by The Fling
June 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
What’s most immediately respectable about The Fling’s debut album When The Madhouses Appear is its ability to synthesize its noticeable influences in a way that doesn’t pull directly from them—a valuable skill in an age running rampant with duplicates. At a glance, the blend of southwestern folk and alternative rock of Madhouses will draw comparisons to Ode to Sunshine, the debut album of The Fling’s fellow Long Beach natives, Delta Spirit. But Madhouses isn’t an ode to anything sunny, and The Fling is no Delta Spirit duplicate.
Clocking in at about 45 minutes, the album is a raggedly waltzing trip through songs about insomnia, women, seeking comfort and trying to make sense of things. The soaring harmonies of the record’s opener “Friend of Mine” make the southern California four-piece sound like a band that boasts greater numbers. The lead vocals of Dustin Lovelis are lower and more soulful than both Robin Pecknold’s of Fleet Foxes and Ben Bridwell’s of Band of Horses, but not quite as raspy and rugged as Matthew Vasquez’ of Delta Spirit.
The album is well-structured—each heavier or more upbeat song is punctuated by a stripped down or slow-rocking ballad. The band has previously been called “psychedelic,” but the songs on Madhouses are straightforward, except for a few well-placed rhythm changes and tempo shifts to keep you guessing. They get in, do their job, and get out before overstaying their welcome. In fact, you could argue that the brevity of some of the songs is one of the record’s weaknesses. “Nothing Makes Sense” and “Out Of My Head” are both strong tracks that would benefit all the more if they had bridges to put them over the three-minute mark and keep them around long enough to make a statement.
Despite its brevity, “Out Of My Head” is a standout. It’s also the track on Madhouses most similar to their previous single “Lonely Fool” from their Ghost Dance EP, and is clear evidence of the band’s growing maturity. “Cold Comfort,” with its instrumental intro and heavy-cutting tremolo guitars, was expanded from its original form on Ghost Dance EP into the six-minute centerpiece of album.
The boys of The Fling sing with the abandon of newly-released prisoners, but also with the dreariness and foreboding that comes with the sobering inevitability of ending up back in jail. The lyrics of the closer “Devil’s Man” sum up the overall impression Madhouses leaves you with: “I am a tourniquet down at the bottom of a well / I’ll stop the bleedin’ but I’ll make it hurt like hell.”
Christian Koons, Music Writer