First things first - I have a long history with Tooth Lures a Fang. both as a band and as friends. I’ve been listening since the inception of the band, and shot a half a dozen music videos for them (3 this year alone, leading up to the release of their new album), taken photos for them, etc. Regardless, this will be a fair review - but it’s important to know where I’m coming from when I say that this is, by far, the best thing this band has ever done. That’s not to say it’s perfect - few albums are, and we’ll discuss why below - but as a whole, Fake Control is a fully realized and spectacularly self-recorded and produced record. It's something I think only a few bands in the Cincinnati area have managed to pull off and, I mean it when I say it’s an album, and they’re a band, worth paying attention to.
Unorthodox as it might be, I’d like to point you towards this review, from “Bad Dad” Ed Crinnian over at the site thatsgoodenoughforme.com. It’s about as unbiased as it gets, but it paints a good picture for how the album plays outside of the Tristate Area. Ed’s a great dude, has a great ear, and I trust his takes on what he’s listening to more than just about anyone I know and read regularly. So if you don’t take my word on any of this, take his…
Fake Control has been out for a few weeks, so I’ve gotten to spend some time with it after purchasing the digital version on Bandcamp. I’ve listened to it on a variety of speakers - car stereo, computer, earbuds - and I’m still finding little things to be impressed by with each run through the album. Starting with lead single “Pennies,” which was also the first music video released by the band this year, Fake Control dives right into what Tooth Lures a Fang has set out to accomplish with their third full-length album: a statement of intent, maybe even purpose, with a much tighter approach to songwriting that focuses on stronger melodies, cleaner vocals, and fuller production. Every element the band has been toying with over the past decade finally snaps into place.
The transition from meandering but emotive 90’s-inspired garage rock to almost but not quite straightforward 90’s-inspired power pop suits this band incredibly well. Where before they might have spent a little too much time letting a song play itself out, Fake Control sees the band taking full control of each song’s structure and narrative, blending elements of some of the 90’s best examples of alt rock with a healthy dose of their own particular brand of cleverness. It feels like Elvis Costello meets Smashing Pumpkins and Fountains of Wayne in some honestly surprising ways.
Vocalist and guitarist Zach Starkie squeezes an impressive amount of energy and passion into a much leaner approach to lyrics, vocals, and guitars. Observing life as a near-middle age high school teacher, a friend, and a husband, it’s always enlightening to hear from someone that has a unique perspective. Track 5, “Textbook Camo,” is a great encapsulation of everything he’s figured out how to do well. It’s heavy, but not oppressive - it was great to hear that bit of grunginess happening early on in the record. And the album’s title track may be one of the best songs he’s written in general - if there’s a piece of music that feels the most personal to me, it’s “Fake Control.” I think the line “I try to be so nice to myself” is one for the ages, and resonates with me in a way that’s hard to describe - it just feels right.
Taking its cue from the album opener, the first few tracks also lay out the sonic theme of, Fake Control - consistency, aural singularity, and super tight production. Bassist Nic Pater recorded, mixed, and produced the album to stunning effect. His deft bass work and complementary backing vocals work well with Starkie’s unaffected vocal performance, as well as the chunkier guitars (as well as the sparklier, more moody, and atmospheric portions towards the back half of the album). A good example of what Pater manages to do so well, “So Hard,” really brings together all the elements that make Tooth Lures a Fang what they are today.
The drums are punchy, absolutely huge. John Kathman, drummer, has an impeccable sense of when to rein himself in, and when to let loose a little, but all of it is in service to the best songs Tooth Lures a Fang has written as a unit. “Better Friends” is a track that very succinctly illustrates how gelled this band has become - thumpy, driven, a little gnarly, it’s one of the heaviest songs they’ve put together and works so well within the new context of the band. Kathman holds the whole thing together. Everyone shines.
I love what they’ve done with tracks like “Outsider” and “Islands,” that are so cleverly arranged with some of the best vocal harmonies they’ve put together, but still also feature some of Starkie’s best guitar work to date. Slower tracks like “Real Love” and “Better Days” bring the tempo down without getting too maudlin or bringing the energy of the album down too much.
Tooth Lures a Fang set out to make an album that doesn’t just highlight their commitment to actually being this version of the band, but lays such a solid foundation for what the band can do going forward it’s impossible not to get excited for the future. While at times there’s a noticeable strain on what they’re doing now, it feels like they’ve finally found their groove, if not their identity as a whole, and with that focus they can work on refining the few rough elements that remain.
It’s worth stating again how well put together and cohesive this album is from both a content and production standpoint. Even as a fan of the band, I was genuinely surprised by what Fake Control is and what it manages to do during its runtime. Whether or not you’ve seen Tooth Lures a Fang live, or have listened to any of the two full-lengths or the EP they’ve released previously, I mean it when I say there’s never been a better time to check back in with the band. They’ve come a long, long way from where they started, and I’m genuinely excited about not just where they are now, but where they’re going next. Fake Control offers a fresh look at a band that has figured itself out, and I’ve no doubt that it will be considered a turning point for them as they continue making music.
Click the cover of the album below to hear for yourself, and purchase from Bandcamp.