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fiasco – I’ll Be With You (Review)

Three songs and eleven minutes. That’s all it takes to immerse yourself in fiasco’s final EP, I’ll Be With You. As always, the experience leaves you wanting more. In my case, that means starting it over, then starting it over again, just like their previous EP, Example of Wit. There’s something fleeting in the music that makes you want to reach out and hold it before it gets away. It could be the nonchalant production, which sounds just good enough to convey the songs, but not enough to sparkle in our modern age of overproduced recordings. You listen again, noticing a heavily delayed guitar riff thats nearly buried beneath the band’s huge rhythms. You felt it’s pang the first time you heard the song, but you couldn’t quite figure out where it came from. When you hear it again, it seems impossible that something so monumental could go unnoticed.

That’s what fiasco represents to me. Charleston had a band that was so loud, guitars and vocals screaming in anguish, but it was tucked into the nooks and crannies of Bogard Street with the rest of the weeds. Something most people would walk right past. But if you catch it when the sun’s just right, you’ll realize the arbitrary arrangements are one of the most beautiful open endings you’ll ever encounter.

“Blasé” starts off the EP with a quick spat of nostalgic rhythms before settling into a delivery pattern perfectly poised to convey Scott Frank’s lyrics. Loud and riding between controlled and chaotic, Frank’s vocal delivery was perhaps the most unique across Charleston’s music scene. Sparring with Nate McKinley’s guitar riffs, your attention is pulled to different musical scenes throughout the song. The immersive experience is familiar to fiasco’s earlier work, but fresh enough to usurp your views on the band once more. Whatever fiasco songs you hear first are going to be your favorite, there’s no way around that. Hearing anything new can make you nervous – will it hold up to their past work? You don’t even need to get half-way through “Blasé” to feel the wave of relief as you realize: yah, fiasco still fucks.

“Loose-Lipped” takes a steadier approach. The guitar-work functions within oblique chord structures rather than riffage, and Frank’s vocals refrain from shredding his vocal chords until the last lines of the song. This track is a good representation of heavier bands using songwriting techniques normally associated with pop music. The structure is organized, and the emotion comes through in subtle ways – the phrasing of a chord, or the intervals in a harmony vocal line. It’s easy to assume that loud bands are hiding imperfections in their presentation. While that can be true, “Loose-Lipped” is a beautiful example of excellent songwriting riding a loud foundation. As always, Andrew Barnes’ drumming and Bandi Tomaschek’s basslines hold down the chaotic fort with leather-clad strength. Any liberties that they take are beyond tasteful, putting a texture underneath the song that you only notice if you’re really paying attention. Their grooves are audacious, yet their execution is so natural that you fall into the pocket without realizing how truly insane that rhythm is. The elongated syncopation in the bridge seems inevitable after the straight shooting in the first half of the song, and we somehow don’t notice that we completely jumped railcars into a neighboring train. It really is a work of art.

Then theres “Wassaw”. I feel obligated to confess that this song plunges into a fresh wound across Charleston’s music community, and that it will be a long time before I can hear it without crying.

If “Loose-Lipped” is subtle, “Wassaw” is a glancing blow to the stomach followed by Frank holding your head between his hands and screaming directly into your face. The pain is self-evident. The delivery is authentic. The builds and deconstructions disassemble your heart and rearrange it in ways you’d rather not talk about. Each member of the band contributes different musical phrasings that interlock with each other in a death-throw from start to finish. When they take a second to breathe, it’s only to inflate the lungs to maximum capacity and dive back into the fray. A cinder block on the gas pedal and everyone grasping at the wheel, the centripetal force of their hairpin turns plasters you to the wall.

“Where were you?”

It feels like a penultimate with no resolution. An unresolved yearning that takes a moment of quiet… then jumps the plane with no parachute. We all know what it means. There’s not a single thing any of us can do about it.

The breakdown comes.

With a ghastly wail, Scott Frank screams his signature “yeah” in a slow motion sea of half-time and minor dissonance. The final 30 seconds of fiasco feel like a lifetime, a sunset on Bogard that will impact Charleston for years to come. It’s hard not cry when you hear it, for me anyways. It’s humbling to behold something so powerful conveyed through such a beautiful, dirty lens. The finality is heart-wrenching. It’s not supposed to be over so soon, and yet it is.

While a setting sun may leave us in darkness again, The Holy City gets an ocean sunrise every morning, with thousands of artists capturing its visage daily. I am extremely thankful to have fiasco’s counterpoint in the mix, as dark backdrops make those bright moments truly pop. I almost feel unworthy of being gifted such a beautifully crafted EP. However, my gut knows that gifts like this help to keep faith alive in the forgotten corners of Charleston. Stick tight, everybody.