‘Undoubtedly witty and charismatic with a self-deprecating charm’
London four-piece Fightmilk play an emotional style of indie rock: a witty and insightful soundtrack to the many and varied frustrations of romance, relationships and life in general. Sometimes angry and powerful, sometimes beautiful and melancholic, often very funny, it is downbeat in a curiously uplifting way.
Formed in 2015, they put out a couple of EPs before signing to the Reckless Yes label for their debut album Not With That Attitude in 2018. Work was underway for the follow-up Contender when, like everyone else, their plans were changed by the onset of a global pandemic. Lead single I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space, with its delightfully quirky accompanying video (think spacesuits, Star Trek style uniforms and lots of silver foil), was one of my favourite tracks of last year. Unfortunately, its release coincided with the first lockdowns of March 2020. Inevitably, there was a long gap between starting and finishing the album, but it’s out on Reckless Yes on 14th May 2021.
After an ethereal introductory instrumental, with the frustrated expletive from a false start left in to keep it grounded, the album bursts into life with Lucky Coin. Initially, it’s a relatively traditional indie-rock set up: twangy guitar over big chords, augmented by up-the-neck bass licks and busy drums with plenty of bouncy toms. There are loud sections, quiet sections and a heart-melting lead vocal from Lily that combines poignancy with sparkling wit. Rather like the work of Belle and Sebastian, these songs have the ability to instantly transport listeners of any age back to the lovelorn days of youth, where everything is new and exciting. Still, there are emotional minefields to negotiate at every turn.
“I’m not looking at you, I’m not doing this tonight. I’ve sat in the bath for an hour and a half and I’ve decided to be alright.”
Whatever the lyrical mood, the band sound like they are having fun. The interplay between Lily and Alex on guitars shines through the mix, and I particularly like their signature combination of sparkling arpeggios over pulsating tremolo chords. Healey’s bass lines span plenty of fretboard, and Nick’s beats accentuate the varied dynamics. The drum sound is compressed, punchy and tastefully damped. Lucky Coin ends playfully with a cheesy cadence and twin snare rolls in the style of The Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’, which leads nicely into the current single, Hey Annabelle! This is two minutes or so of boisterous and bouncy indie pop, with chiming guitars, layers of backing vocals and a clap-along breakdown.
The impressive lyric of I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space is imbued with the melancholic weariness of someone whose partner is not putting in the emotional effort on the relationship mission. The languid and vibey verses contrast with a thumping pre-chorus of big chords and drum hits and equally powerful lyrical couplets:
“Watching Interstellar didn’t make it better
Reading Carl Sagan, looking kind of vacant.”
As is the custom with any space-themed rock, there’s also an instrumental section powering up like the ship’s engines. It’s not quite Hawkwind, but it’s immensely satisfying and a lot of fun.
The Absolute State Of Me is glorious pop misery, its witty bitterness gliding gracefully over a two-note synth hook. The produced and considered arrangement utilises piano, an anchoring guitar motif and a rather splendid ascending bridge section. Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun goes further, employing all manner of keyboard and string sounds, and even a drum machine, in a rich backdrop to the touching beauty of a sombre vocal.
Cool Cool Girl ups the tempo and steers back into indie-pop territory, with a hugely catchy chorus and a sassy lyric that parades through some Myers-Briggs personality types. A brief interlude of radio tuning static leads into the aptly titled Banger #4, whose fast and furious drumming would be an appropriate accompaniment to paddle a canoe through the credits of Hawaii 5-0. The song is another absolute cracker, with its affirming refrain of “There’s more to life than getting it right” and a simple but effortlessly effective two-note solo ringing out over an insistently ascending bass line.
If You Had A Sister is more reflective, with a heart-rending lyric built around the sort of hurtful remark that can be casually uttered to devastating effect: “Maybe if you had a sister, you wouldn’t be this way.” You Are Not The Universe somehow manages to be soaringly expansive and dejectedly lugubrious all at the same time. A nifty synth figure, delicious guitar sounds, and big sweeping chords swoop through changes of mood and rhythm around a clever lyrical conceit.
The acoustic guitar intro to Maybe gives way to a satisfying progression of big chords and a thumping floor tom. A final instrumental break ushers in album closer, Overbite, a tender love song hurried along by an urgent bass-driven rhythm. “You’re perfect as you are” is the lyrical gist, and an irresistible arpeggio leads into a joyous crescendo of a refrain, with plenty of backing vocals and scurrying drum fills. It’s an upbeat conclusion to this emotional rollercoaster of a richly varied and exciting album.
Whether indie pop is your thing is a matter of taste, but Fightmilk are deft exponents of this jangly art form. Undoubtedly witty and charismatic with a self-deprecating charm, they have enough photon torpedoes in their musical arsenal to deal with whatever challenges their continuing mission presents. I still want to go to space, I’ve ordered a vinyl copy of the album, and I’ll be beaming down whenever they next get to play live.
02 Lucky Coin
03 Hey Annabelle!
04 I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space
05 The Absolute State Of Me
06 Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun
07 Cool Cool Girl
09 Banger #4
10 If You Had A Sister
11 You Are Not The Universe