Sporting thick, neon-bright guitars and a booming vocalist in the Beth Ditto mold, Fault Lines is a garage band that sounds much too big to fit in an actual garage. Portland usually doesn't take kindly to that sort of outsized ambition, but the group's debut, Tapes and Wires, is too hooky to ignore. It's a classic example of making nice tires without reinventing the wheel: You've heard these exuberantly winsome power-pop melodies before, but they still stick in your heart. And with frontwoman Sara Hernandez belting them out, those melodies nearly transform into a force of nature.
The fact that Fault Lines evolved out of local garage-pop group the Angry Orts (the Orts are no more, but founding guitarist Arron Ettlin and singer Sara Hernandez both made the jump) puts me at ease. Their amazingly catchy debut album Tapes and Wires would be a terrifying statement from a newly formed band, but given the history here, it's merely scary good. "Kirstie Alley" opens the album with a crunchy guitar riff that paves the way for Hernandez's sweeping vocals and sincere lyrics, which shine the entire length of the album. Larry Crane, who produced the album here in town at Jackpot! Recording, can add yet another exceptional voice to a résumé that already includes Corin Tucker and Jenny Lewis (both spring to mind upon hearing Tapes and Wires). We're halfway into 2013 and Fault Lines have just issued one of the finest releases of the year. Come celebrate it tonight.
One of the years most explosive and hard-hitting garage-pop albums, Tapes and Wires, is here, and strikes with enough lo-fi rawness and echoing guitar riffs to last a life time. And then some. Brought to us by Fault Lines, a four-piece hailing from Portland, Oregon, this debut successfully manages to combine tumultuous attitude and an unpolished, grungy sound, with hard-to-shake hooks and catchy melodies; that’s no easy feat, and aside from equally attitude ridden rockers Dum Dum Girls, Fault Lines are unique in the success of this accomplishment. After watching a live performance by the punky quartet at a local venue, and in an effort to translate the vigour and dynamism of their gigs into a recorded collection of material, Larry Crane invited the band to his studio where, in October 2012, ‘Tapes and Wires’ well and truly came to life. Verve-ridden, energy-loaded and chaos-spewing, this album smashes everything from melancholy lust to fierce tunes of resistance and ‘cigarettes and cheap wine’, all within its 12 short tracks. If Aaron, Matthew, Emily and lead vocalist Sara are even half as energetic in the flesh as on ‘Tapes and Wires’, then the unity of Crane and the group has been victorious; the power of their musicality has been captured.
The combination of melodic backing vocals, bare drum beats, scuzzy guitar-loops and the stand-out lyricism and vocal capacity of Sara Hernandez, make songs like album opener ‘Kirstie Alley’, and ‘Tapes n Wires’, scream rock n roll revival. In terms of remarkable front women, Hernandez is up there with the best; think Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O’s loveable idiosyncrasies, or Gossip and the ferociousness and larger than life charisma of Beth Ditto. Her tuneful croon and painfully honest lyricism in songs such as ‘Basin’, where she sings “I’m gonna change my ways, one day at a time”, make the songs relatable, rarely found in such noisy, neo-funk tracks. With huskiness akin to that of Debbie Harry, and the support of a lullaby-like set of backing vocals, Hernandez’s tone is truly captivating. Even in angrier tracks like ‘A Side of Sugar’, which, by the way, is a 3 and a half minute long, guitar-laden tale of alcohol-fuelled debauchery, broken up only by mind-blowing guitar riffs, her voice has the ability to make listeners stand to attention.
This album, however, isn’t all noise pop haziness and nihilistic, punk attitudes. While to an extent the four-piece’s debut album takes a leaf out of Tommy Ramones’ book, giving us a level of pure, stripped down, ‘no bullshit rock n roll’, Fault Lines are by no means a one-trick pony, and have an inescapably lugubrious edge. Poignant and heart-felt track ‘Harden My Heart’, embodies the band’s delicacy, and displays with precision their elusive guitar-lines and gentle vocal abilities, without losing an ounce of hard-edged attitude. Similarly, ‘Shadow’, in which Hernandez pleads with some enigmatic, unknown entity to “tell me I’m the one”, is unexpectedly touching, coupling quietly gentle drumming with earthy, near-acoustic guitar chords to create an unrivaled level of sentiment.
All in all, Tapes and Wires is a plethora of emotions and sounds, and quite astoundingly provides us with a myriad of listening experiences throughout its dozen tracks. With a thematically all-inclusive scope, featuring everything from punchy, guitar-based, garage-pop beauties, to rather unexpected ethereal wonders, this debut makes for a highly absorbing listen.