Everything is shit. I wake up in the morning, go to the shower, and listen to the news while I’m in the shower. “Everything’s dying and we’re all fucked” soundtracks the repetitive scrubbing process of my body. The same pattern, the same order every day. After breakfast I start work. I work in the same place I live. In the hours where I’m most awake, I’m at a computer, being mildly productive while avatars of colleagues find different condescending ways to tell me that I should be working quicker and better. Once the working day is over, I stop working but remain on the computer looking at different tabs now. Once it gets late enough, I get into bed and prepare to repeat the whole process again the next day.
I don’t tell people things are bad, of course. If anyone asks, I tell them “oh you know, can’t complain, it could be worse”. That’s because it could. On the grand scale of things I’ve got it good, as my shower companion reminds me on a daily basis. Though deep down it doesn’t feel that way. Deep down the repetition makes everything feel harder, creates consistent middles rather than highs or lows. Over time it becomes numbing. Then along comes Fightmilk’s new album Contender. A rainbow of light shining on a world of shit.
It feels otherworldly listening to something so unabashedly positive when living under a constant strain of rising anxiety. It feels like peaking into another world, a world where people were so whimsically care-free. Positive major chords, hand claps, chorus hooks, vocal harmonies, pop punk guitars; it’s all so optimistic, so innocent. Imagine a world where you could write a song like I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Want To Go To Space. The wry lyrical witticisms taking the listener on a tour de force of space references (“Watching Interstellar didn’t make it better. Reading Carl Sagan, looking kind of vacant.”) while documenting a relationship scenario where your biggest concerns are your astronomical ambitions. The knowing playful naivety invites the listener to join them on this ride, and succeeds in creating this escapism.
Fightmilk are a beacon of light. They manage to embody pure positive energy without crossing the line into unbearable twee. Every time the album threatens to get too sweet, a song like Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun, If You Had A Sister… or Maybe creates a moment of introspection that gains an additional level of gravitas from its relative change of pace. As a result these tracks stand out as album highlights exploring more dynamic range and tenderness than elsewhere and creating a deeper emotional reaction as a result.
We’re not listening to Fightmilk for retrospection though. This is the band who wants to get you up and moving even if it’s only your cat that’s joining you. They challenge you to listen to Cool Cool Girl even a single time without getting its chorus hook of “Cuckoo Girl” (or something) looping round your head for hours afterwards. It’s music to pogo to, to flail to, to throw your arms in the air and shout along to. Just stand around and shuffle awkwardly on your feet if you want, they’re not going to judge. This is music for empowering dorks, uniting the meek to finally inherit the earth. It’s music for a sunny outdoor festival surrounded by smiling people standing less than 1.5 metres from you. It’s a testament to better times.
They exist in another time and place. They represent the things which seemed so normal not that long ago. Music which almost feels designed to be enjoyed in a live environment, to be performed live. Each member of the four-piece having their place in the piece, musical progressions that could only have been brought together loud and live such as the unexpected chugging that brings You Are Not The Universe to a close. It sounds so familiar yet the elements which resemble this different world feel strangely nostalgic.
There are so many great songs on this album. So many that capture and accentuate that DIY, fanzine photocopying indie aesthetic of the early 2000s on the tail end of britpop. These songs have hooks. So many hooks. So many of these songs stand out as catchy singles in their own right. There’s so many memorable moments underlying each and every one of the album’s 44 minutes that it can almost get exhausting. As the third transition track (bartender) comes to an end, Overbite feels like an unexpected encore in the aftermath. But what an encore.
After a promising debut, Fightmilk have made an incredible follow up that feels more realised as an album from start to finish. They too have been affected by the pandemic in the delayed release of this album, but as a return to normality feels like a possibility for the future, they’ve ended up creating the perfect soundtrack for the slow return to normality.