Wasabi Fire Alarm – Two Fingers In A ‘V’ – Album Review
Alrighty people…you should be stoked to check out a project with potential like this. And a name like this for that matter – Wasabi Fire Alarm? C’mon…that’s just about as cool as a band name can be. Memorable too! Some of you no doubt remember the first time we featured the band on these pages of ours when they released the title-track/lead-single “Two Fingers In A ‘V’” back at the end of April. Incidentally, we also started checking out their lead guitarist D.Ni.L’s solo music around the same time and have since reviewed his record Boy.Inside to much acclaim; safe to say he’s having an inspired year. Will he carry that energy over to Wasabi Fire Alarm? Will Sue Egypt (Vocals), Al (Bass), and Mike (Drums) be ready to rise to the occasion and make this debut count? Will art & music be a prevalent part of their sound overall? Will my coffee cup continue to sit here empty or will it somehow be filled with that sweet, sweet elixir that keeps my engine running 24/7? So many questions to be answered!
Spoiler alert…I’ve come to believe that the answer to all those questions is yes. The coffee cup sitting full in front of me (for the moment) is a verifiable fact that I can visibly see – perhaps the rest is all how I personally hear the music of Wasabi Fire Alarm…my gut tells me that many other people out there will be willing & ready to follow this band down the rabbit hole into this trip of fusion & expression. It’s just a matter of getting people to find it…which is part of why I write these things for you all to read…to let you know through written clues and cues as to what kind of sound or style might appeal to you. In the case of a band as diverse, versatile, & skilled as Wasabi Fire Alarm – they’ll certainly peak the interest & curiosity of those out there looking for something different, artistic, poetic, creative; the collective combination of talents from each corner of this band have a remarkably fresh sound that music needs. Besides that…when you consider how bands like Portishead, Stereolab, or Slint have bubbled below the surface of the mainstream for years and went on to enjoy lengthy careers or legendary status – arguably both for all – you gotta be excited about a band like Wasabi Fire Alarm that isn’t actively trying to be like ANY of the bands I’ve just cited, but still has their own organic similarities that fit them right into that crowd. Bottom line is, if you’re looking for music that does it differently & does it well – this band is for you; but perhaps what’s most remarkable about Wasabi Fire Alarm…is that while you can make a few comparisons to artistically-expressive artists/bands from the past, the names you’ll likely recall or compare them to will pretty much ALL be notably less accessible overall. And they all found their way. Sunny skies ahead for a band like this as far as I’m concerned…once they establish that audience out there, it’s never going to leave them. Fearlessness and courage in music is a highly attractive quality to all of our ears when it comes to music…this crew goes after every idea with everything they’ve got and have really committed to the wild ideas throughout Two Fingers In A ‘V’ – it’s an extraordinary debut.
And facts are facts, I’ve mentioned this before and it’s STILL true – I pretty much wake up with the hooks of “Two Fingers In A ‘V’” in my head every second morning, or at the very least, they’ll float through my brain at some point on any given day. It was APRIL when I heard it people…that’s a significant amount of time to have a song on the brain! It was then and remains now, a highly engaging track to listen to – and though I suspected that Wasabi Fire Alarm had much more in store for us when it came time for the full album to be released, as a single, you couldn’t make a bigger impact than they did with “Two Fingers In A ‘V’” – it’s the kind of song that immediately hints at the potential and possibilities of a band like this without giving it all away at once. Just enough of the magic to make you wonder about what might follow…and that’s all you can ever really hope for in a lead-single…that it leads us faithfully to the rest. As the immaculate production and sound of “Two Fingers In A ‘V’” began, it was pretty much like hearing the soundtrack on the inside of my head on the outside through my speakers at this point – that’s how familiar this song still is to me since hearing it way back when. Did that mean I skipped over it when listening to the full-album? Hell no! Just as enjoyable now – read the full review right here.
Everything after on Two Fingers In A ‘V’ was all brand-new to me. For the record, the album’s out there now and available to you all…came out officially at the end of June; I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that y’all find yourself a copy if you want something innovative & inventive for your summer listening. “New Start” felt like immediate confirmation about the potential I was hearing back when I first experienced the music of Wasabi Fire Alarm. You can hear how the band is tightly in lockstep with each other and moving boldly as a unit, Sue quickly joins in and brings an incredible grace to the mic; the quality of sound, the writing of each part, the backing vocals, the confident performances, and the remarkably stunning & poetic lyricism all adds up to an impressive mix of melancholy emotions, & hope. If you dig a bit into the history of what’s influenced the sound of Wasabi Fire Alarm, you’ll find a slight psychedelic thread in there – the style of the verses on “New Start” work that colorful magic really well. D.Ni.L lends himself to the backing vocals powerfully here as this song transitions from part to part, adding in extra layers of attitude beneath the surface of Sue’s soaring, artistic, and charming sound. A highly engaging melody with haunting mystique & beauty supplied by the vocals that works boldly in tandem with the crunch & grittiness of the music underneath…Wasabi Fire Alarm is instantly impressive.
And somehow – it continues to get even better – “and 4” might just be one of the most stylistically cool songs you’ll hear this year. Sue deserves a massive award for both how she sings this song, and the choices she makes in terms of HOW to sing it – I can’t imagine there’s a single person out there that could hear what she does on “and 4” and not be impressed by this. She’s nearly in a free-flowing thought process throughout this song…each line she’s written is powerful but the words are used sparingly as she sings them. There are in fact, only six individual lines of lyrics…and here’s where it comes down to Sue as a performer to bring each of them to life in their own way through a cleverly hypnotic repetition and non-linear approach that is wonderfully expressive. Awesome ideas in subtle editing & effects that you can hear pop up at times add in that extra hook to pull us in to listen when it comes to the vocals; the piano-led direction was also a clever switch occurring early on in the record. D.Ni.L adds in one of his best performances in the background vocals floating through the atmosphere. Right around the…hmmm…1:43 mark (you know, somewhere around there, not like I’m being specific to the very second…or am I?) Sue makes an excellent transition in the melody and takes the song to another level altogether as Wasabi Fire Alarm dives into Trip-Hop deep here on “and 4” with what sounds like either smart electro-elements added in as well or really tight drumming from Mike possibly creating that upbeat, jazzy vibe that this track takes on along the way. Really cool cut to listen to.
Al and Mike deserve a ton of credit for holding the rhythm section down rock-solidly at all times. You get a great chance to hear their interaction on display through a song like “Numb” – you’ll get many more throughout the record as well, but this track in particular relies on their steadiness quite a bit. Great tone in Al’s bass and precision drumming from Mike that genuinely adds to the experience through the expression in his technique and the way he hits those skins with such control. For those of you out there familiar with D.Ni.L’s music or the way he approaches it creatively – you know that having such a reliable backbone supporting the songs that Wasabi Fire Alarm make allows for him to have that extra room to roam and explore wild ideas in the lead guitar that can really add flavor & punch to what they do. As subtle and tranquil as parts of “Numb” may be at times – at its most riotous, you can hear that influence of D.Ni.L transform this song within itself in complete contrast to how it began. I love the chords he’s working with throughout the verses…very like, Ok Computer-era Radiohead and moody choices before he surges with the band and explodes into the chorus. The thick tones from Al on the bass have real weight, like a Mogwai-esque amount of punch to the definition in the bass-lines and low-end of the music mixed into the airy & dreamy melody overtop. D.Ni.L supplies haunting backing vocals in the verse and brings the madness to the grinding sound of the chorus…”Numb” has a definite two-sides to its somewhat split-personality, but each have their own strong allure and reason to listen, resulting in one wild ride overall. I love the way Sue writes her words and sings them…there’s really not much, if anything, that’s typical about her approach – yet somehow, she’s finding an authentic way to adapt her ideas, thoughts, & poetic-inclinations perfectly in ways that make complete sense to our ears.
There are so many reasons to love “Endured” that I’ve pretty much lost count of them all as I listened to this record throughout the week…but I’ll do my best to explain. First of all, it shows Wasabi Fire Alarm in a lighter atmosphere; we’re not talking pop here, but we’re talking pop-inclinations when it comes to the sweetness in the melody and Sue’s remarkable performance. Honestly – what’s not to love about this? “Endured” has a brilliant progression and the production on this entire track is through the roof cool when you get right into how these vocals work. While it moves slowly at times, it’s always on-point for supplying entertainment for your ears…the drums fire up in the chorus, the effects on Sue’s vocals are perfect, the aftermath & sweetness that takes place in this song after the storm of intensity always made for an impressive switching in energies that really satisfied & hit the mark. Look…I have no doubt that it’s the brightness and uniqueness of Sue’s vocals on the surface level that are going to completely pull most people into this one – and I wouldn’t blame you for that whatsoever – but it’s also in really getting into the construction & composition of “Endured” that you’ll find the greatest rewards overall.
The Primus-esque sound of “Self Doubt” has an undeniable groove to it. I kind of found this song fascinating really…I mean, in so many ways, there are multiple moments throughout “Self Doubt” where it’s not moving all that quickly at all, relying on that meaty-riff to make the impact. Maybe not so much relying on it as much as that’s always kind of what we hear for a large stretch of this song; which…in some ways is a great thing, because that hook is clearly bulletproof in the music – but in other ways, it’s almost damn TOUGH to reach what’s happening on the mic in this particular song due to how engaging that riff can really be! Their fault, not mine, it’s on them. That being said – moments like just prior to the three-minute mark and just past the four, “Self Doubt” finds an absolutely inspired energy you couldn’t possibly ignore. Sue’s vocals serve up an incredible highlight with some seriously high-up notes that require a ton of heart, passion, and skill to pull off – and I think she completely nails it here. I liked the wrestling of personalities that this song seemed to transmit within its multiple dimensions and think she sounded great to begin with on this cut – but as “Self Doubt” heads towards its middle and end, this track just continued to soar to brilliance and further strengths as it played on. Standout musicianship from D.Ni.L and Al as they wind & grind through the riffs & hooks of “Self Doubt,” Mike holds the fort together on this bizarre oddity for them all, and Sue confidently brings a mixture of madness, magic, and melody to the vocals…the amount of personality contained on this one track alone is all the proof you need that Wasabi Fire Alarm can fuse together the wildest of ideas into an experience unlike any other. I think that latter chorus…or additional part of this song…whatever it is you want to call it – those moments where I’ve specifically referenced by time already…those moments might very well be my favorite highlight for Sue on this entire record – the melody she creates heads straight for the heart.
“Not The Whole Truth” is likely the candidate for the song that’ll have to fight for your attention the most on those first couple spins…it’s between this song and the next one called “Control” – but they’re both great examples of why this debut will hold up over time. Listening to the structure and evolution of this cut as it heads from the murk into the inspired sounds of the chorus…that’s just like finding the light in the darkness and an immaculate switch in the direction of this tune. It ends up creating an authentic sense of exploratory sound; the deep rumble of the bass from Al and pensive nature of the verses…the hollow distance in the backing vocals and how they interact with the lead from Sue…the way it all snaps together for the powerful chorus of “Not The Whole Truth” – it all adds up to a serious sonic adventure and ride worth taking. It’s got that mix of tension & beauty, slow-burning intensity & intelligent lyricism that you’d find in Massive Attack on records like The 100th Window, or that wonderful mix of angelic sound & theatrical drama that you find in the music of Hooverphonic. As far as hooks on this record go – the chorus of “Not The Whole Truth” might be the most precious highlight on the album and a real gateway into this band for some people …for others it might take a while to get there through the trudge in the pace of the verse. Put it to you this way…I’d understand it, but to me, the payoff is completely worth it every time – I love the way that Sue’s vocals rise up through the progression of the vocal melody she’s written into the chorus of “Not The Whole Truth” – it’s worth the price of admission.
I think you’ve really gotta hand it to this band for pushing the limits of what is typical. I think if you were to look at the ingredients of a song like “Control” on paper, you’d probably think it wouldn’t make sense enough by the end to pursue it…or that somehow the combination of Sue’s angelic tones and the grittiness of the music wouldn’t work out. As it turns out for “Control” and so many of these tunes – it not only thrives as a combination of contrasting sounds, it’s entirely compelling to listen to…you end up craving music like this because it IS different from the rest of what you’ve heard, truly. Does that take some getting used to for listeners out there? It honestly might…I’ve got no illusions about people just automatically accepting everything Wasabi Fire Alarm does immediately – but I do have a strong feeling that in just giving an album like this ONE spin that you’ll find every reason as to why you’d WANT to come back for more. In some ways I think that “Control” is a tough one to absorb right after “Not The Whole Truth” as they both explore that distant sound that invades the atmosphere somewhat, and arguably, they’re both a little less straight-ahead and more weighted structures that take some genuine listening to fully appreciate. That being said, I think those that dig their musicianship will certainly appreciate “Control” and the remarkable technique that’s continuously on display, the clever instincts that guide them through the transitions of the full scope of this idea, and the authentic desire the band clearly has when it comes to creating something fresh. Tough call…I think both “Not The Whole Truth” and “Control” are great songs individually, but I would also understand if people felt the weight of these two songs back-to-back on the record as well. Ambitious tunes take time to fully digest – Wasabi Fire Alarm can certainly do straight-ahead hooks well and obviously understand the dynamics of what makes writing & music connect to us as listeners – but on these two tracks they start to build the record into something that’ll last longer by expanding their ideas into more involved, complex structures & depth.
Much of how I felt about “Control” and described applies to “Shake That Bunny Tail” as well – that’s just astounding contrast there is what that is. A bit more focused here perhaps, Wasabi Fire Alarm reigns their ideas in a bit and puts together a noteworthy groove you can immediately feel pulse through the energy of the music. Al’s got a large role in that with the bouncy low-end bass-lines that keep the rhythm flowing strongly while D.Ni.L adds in plenty of character through the guitars being placed around them. I think “Shake That Bunny Tail” is another weighty structure for sure and somewhat demanding for the average listening set of ears…but I think people will connect to the mood & dusky atmosphere that this song has. The saxophone solo is another solid idea that you’ll retroactively wish they’d put more of on this record…but it also gives them more opportunities to explore that in the future, because that’s yet again, another exemplary example of the extraordinary character that Wasabi Fire Alarm is capable of adding into their music. Sue sounds awesome on the sax! And honestly, I’d never have assumed that the way Sue chooses to sing with such bright personality & charming sound would be such a perfect match with the intensity & grit that tends to storm into the music of Wasabi Fire Alarm, but yet here we are & yes indeed, it works beyond any expectations or assumptions you could possibly have.
So at this point, I’m sure you get the idea here…I really love what I’ve heard from this band on their debut. And yet still, there’s another ace up their sleeve before we’re done here…
…because while it might not be the overall representation of what you’ll hear on Two Fingers In A ‘V’ in terms of its low-key energy and gentle piano-led approach…the final song “Wrong” is breathtaking. PERFECTLY placed on this record (I know, I know – I get nerdy about this stuff but it makes a difference!) – they’ve really set “Wrong” up RIGHT to make the impact it does. Vastly different from what we’ve experienced so far on the album, this final departure was both a bold move and a stunning ending that’s memorable for all the right reasons. Lyrically, this song pretty much blows my mind; Sue’s got an incredible way with words and has put that skill on display throughout this whole record, but here in this intimate environment & atmosphere, these words somehow come across even more sincerely. What she reveals is so…so…jeez…it’s hard to put it into my own words really…it’s honest, personal, real…and I’ve no doubt, relatable to many people out there who might very well feel the same way she does. That’s one of the best & most beautiful things about music overall isn’t it? That we can find an artist or band like Wasabi Fire Alarm with a voice as strong, capable, sincere, and wise as Sue’s, who can express our thoughts in ways we can’t ourselves, but instantly understand and connect with? Isn’t that exactly why more than half of us, if not all of us, pick up a pen or an instrument or a paint brush to begin with? After what’s been incredibly poetic and lyrically intuitive throughout the distance of “Wrong,” the final two lines say EVERYTHING…a humble and empowering way to conclude an extraordinary song and moment in time that continues to hang in the air and in the halls of your thoughts long after it’s over. Not a single thing I’d change about this song and it’s a sound I’d certainly encourage the band to continue to explore; it’s the very inclusion of a song like “Wrong” on their debut album that’ll lead to the additional freedom to do that in the future with ready acceptance from their fan-base in their attitude towards the shifting sound of Wasabi Fire Alarm. I love absolutely everything about this final song – there’s a great chance this cut will become the crown-jewel for many listeners out there; “Wrong” is powerfully emotional, internally insightful, extraordinarily beautiful…innocent, and magnificently real. Best way I can put it, is I feel just as strongly about “Wrong” & attached to its gripping melody & sincerity as I felt towards “Slow Disco” by St. Vincent at the end of her last record…this is purely brilliant.
On a related side-note…well…first off, I suppose I should say that although I certainly enjoy having a hot cup by my side, coffee is just about the last thing anyone would actually need to get through this album – creativity is always a better pick-me-up than caffeine could ever be. But I wanted to note one other thing that I saw in the credits of this record that speaks just as loudly as any of these songs ever could about the level of unity within this band before we’re done here…because it speaks to their character.
Years ago, I opened up a Blind Melon record to discover one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever read to this day. It said, “All songs written by Blind Melon as one.” And I’ll never forget that. I had already been schooled enough in the inner dynamics of bands & management & contracts, & BS by that point – and to see that there was a band that was willing to put their unity out there as a statement to be proud of gave me hope that it wasn’t always about the almighty dollar or who got paid or credit for whatever part of the music while the band succeeded as a whole. There was something innocent and special about that statement…like I said, I’ll never forget it. It came from a band with the right values when it came to making music…they weren’t just words, they were words you could believe in, because you could HEAR it in the songs & albums they wrote.
So to see “Music written by the band” at the end of the credits on Two Fingers In A ‘V’ brought one last smile to my face, which was already grinning from listening to this triumphant debut all week long. Sue, D.Ni.L, Al, and Mike…they’re all in this thing TOGETHER…because music is clearly IN THEM and it’s genuinely what they LOVE to do. It makes all the difference in the world to us as listeners; they’re all invested in every single idea and every moment throughout this album, and as a result, so too, are we.
Do yourself a favor and find out more about Wasabi Fire Alarm at their official website: https://www.wasabi-fire-alarm.com
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