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Album Review: The Fobs, 'The Fobs'

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The Fobs, The Fobs
  • The Fobs, The Fobs

(Self-released, cassette, digital)

Back in 2015, the Fobs released a charming little record called Creepin on You. Though it probably went overlooked by wider local audiences, the album was a lo-fi gem. The Fobs are back to add to that treasure chest of bedraggled garage-pop jewels with a new, self-titled effort.

Like its predecessors — including a 2015 EP called Fuss — the new record is the brainchild of songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ethan Tapper. Also like those earlier works, The Fobs presents an artist with a skewed worldview, a curious musical mind and a gift for idiosyncrasy. That perfect storm of oddball tendencies manifests in yet another humbly delightful outing from Tapper.

Tapper might be best known locally as the leader of the Burlington Bread Boys, a rambunctious old-time(ish) outfit with a great self-appointed genre descriptor: kazoo-core. On the surface, the two projects don't appear to share much in common. The Bread Boys were a scruffy string band with an anarchist streak. The Fobs are a one-man band who, while also scruffy and leery of conventions both societal and musical, favor electric instruments and synths, with nary a kazoo in sight. Sonically, the two exist miles apart. But that's a superficial difference, because under the skin of both acts beats the same wild, untamed heart.

From the opening punk-flavored giddyap of "Horses" through to thundering album closer "Little Dark City," Tapper writes with a detached cool and a subtle sense of humor. Both suggest a fair amount of time spent at the altar of Frank Black and Kim Deal. He wraps his wry musings in a ragged patchwork coat of distorted guitar and chintzy keyboards. The effect is something like the Pixies' Surfer Rosa if it were written by Jonathan Richman and performed by Richard Hell on cheap instruments.

Tapper is a prolific songwriter. The Fobs checks in at 18 tracks for a hefty run time of 80-plus minutes. By modern standards, that's a veritable epic. Prior to the album's release, Tapper unveiled a collection of outtakes from those sessions comprising 16 additional songs. Clearly, he's not lacking for ideas or ways to express them — though he might benefit from an editor. It's tough to consume the whole album at once, and certain songs that barrel past five or six minutes do so more often out of repetition than invention.

But that's a minor gripe; more often than not, The Fobs charms with wit, lo-fi whimsy and utter lack of pretense.

The Fobs is available digitally and on cassette at thefobs.bandcamp.com. The Fobs (the band) play Saturday, October 13, at Radio Bean in Burlington.

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