Fearless Moral Inventory - American Standard

Richard Thomas 

The full title of this album is “American Standard: A Love Note From Fearless Moral Inventory.” How is it a love note? A labor of love? Certainly a lot of craftsmanship went into it. But it’s a bit grim for a love note, judging from the mostly minor-key melodies and lyrics that range from angry to depressed. Not that I’m complaining. It’s the sort of downer you can sink your teeth into and the songs are highly palatable.

This is psychedelic garage rock. The Twin Ports band started nearly a decade ago as a duo, then expanded into a basic guitar-and-drums outfit, resulting in their first self-titled album in 2017, a crude but energetic work with admirable songwriting. Since then they’ve added a keyboardist who provides wall-to-wall electric organ. The effect is hard-driving yet dreamlike, with thundering bass and drums on the low end and trippy electric guitar on the high end. And sometimes horns.

“Fearless moral inventory” is from the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Recovery program, in which “we write down all our resentments towards people, places and things. Then we take a look at what about these situations made us angry.” That explains some of the lyrics. Still I’m not so sure the band wants you to give up alcohol or other vices.

Why “American Standard?” A standard can be a personal flag or banner, perhaps the band’s dragon mascot. (It’s on the train on the album cover.) A standard also can be a song played so often that it becomes part of classic repertoire. It would be cool to open up The Great American Songbook and find FMI’s “Pig Farm” wedged in between “Begin the Beguine” and “Let’s Fall in Love.”

The first track, “Give It Up,” starts with a quiet piano intro, then moves into a minor key song with a steady beat and restrained cool. (Think Incubus’ “Drive.”) The chorus is rowdy and while the bridge is ethereal with echoey synthesizer. At first the lyrics seem to reference the 12 steps: “When you hit rock bottom tell me what you’re gonna do.” Then it seems to be about hitting on a girl: “Baby, move your feet cause this dance is all just you and me.” Is he trying to get her to “give it up?” Not really; that part is what’s hollered to the audience to get them on the dance floor: “Come on everybody, just give it up cause you’ve ain’t givin’ enough so give it up.” Or does “give it up” mean give up the booze? It has intriguing lines such as “I am the devil, it ain’t easy, how could it be? Cause I am you and you, you are me.”

Track 2, “Diggin You,” is a rare cheerful song in a major key. The lyrics are of no great profundity: “And now I know one thing is true / And I think I, girl, I’m diggin you.” But the electric organ, with long sustained notes, almost make it a rock hymnal.

In “Pig Farm” most of the lyrics are spoken, not quite rap, more like non-singing a la “Sultans of Swing. “Here the lyrics are at their darkest, though what’s it about is not clear. “You” go to a pig farm, eat until your heart fails, get revived by the doctors who put you on medicine on which you become dependent, and you’re trapped: “Now you’re just a little slave, working for that minimum wage.” Is it about rehab? A satire on America? Maybe sometimes a pig farm is just a pig farm? What matters is that it’s a terrific song.

“Falling Apart” has fuzzed out guitars, a driving beat and a deep, rumbling bass. It feels kindred in spirit to the Electric Prunes’ seminal 1966 acid rock song, “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” It’s just what the psychiatrist ordered.

“Greener” continues along these lines with a heavy slab of reggae rock. “Hey” is hard-driving ska featuring a trumpet. In the chorus, “Hey!” is yelled by all band members; it’s not hard to imagine an entire stadium shouting it. The singer follows up with, “Get the f--k away from me!” It’s a short barrage of a song, only two minutes long, ending with the sound of drumsticks clattering on the floor. “Home” is for once slow-paced, with shimmering organ in the chorus. 

“I Don’t Know Why” has a fast western beat. The lyrics progress through a day in the life with building rage: “I don’t know why I get out of bed,” then later “I don’t know why I go to work … I don’t know what or where I’m gonna do … that is why we need something new … this could take all damn night.” it circles around to getting out of the bed the next morning and concludes, “I just don’t think I have all night.”

“Fishy” is an instrumental that makes you wish someone hires the band to do a movie soundtrack. What kind of movie? Road trip, maybe. Something that needs a wide-open sonic landscape. Anything but superheroes.

“Hold On” starts with fairly simple fingerpicking, then adds on startling levels: a catchy drumbeat, harmonies and horns. Midway through it shifts to a beat suitable for a Dropkick Murphys song and goes for a rousing finale.

Fearless Moral Inventory is a one-step program. It distills your angst, frustration and longing and mutates it into agreeable vibrations. It’s better therapy than meds. It may be consumed in addition to a stiff drink, or separately. Ask your doctor if Fearless Moral Inventory is right for you.

FMI’s next shows are Thursday, May 2, 10:30 p.m. at Reef Bar as part of the homegrown Music Festival, and Saturday, May 11, 3:15 p.m. at Bent Paddle. The album is available on cd or digital platforms including itunes, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube and Deezer. Find them at fearlessmi.com or on Facebook.