Artist: J. Fox
Album: We're Happy to Be Here
Comments: In many ways, Philadelphia-based three piece J. Fox is a straight-up punk band. Their début album, We’re Happy To Be Here, clocks in at 14 songs in under 25 minutes. Their sound is decidedly lo-fi, with no guitar effects or fancy studio tricks to be found on this bare-bones record. Their music, which is anchored by an enthusiastic, if not always technically sound rhythm section, isn’t the kind of thing that sounds labored and stressed over. Songs begin and end without warning at times, as if the band just said “fuck it, this is as good a spot to end the song as any.” Rush, they are not.
However, to label this indie-rock record under the "punk" umbrella is to limit it. Sure, We’re Happy To Be Here is a punk album, but it's also a blast. Listening to the album is a lot like eating bread pudding for the first time; at first the texture makes one hesitant despite the fact that it looks good. However, after that first bite, you’ll definitely come back for more.
J. Fox’s main strength (and potential weakness) are in their lyrics. This is a band that lives and dies in the “Train of Thought” school of lyric writing, which is an established university with some great success stories (R.E.M, Modest Mouse) and some colossal failures (The Mars Volta).
For the most part, however, J. Fox seems to avoid the pitfalls that come with free-form lyric writing. They’ve carved themselves into a nice little niche where the words make sense in a broad, open minded sense if not in a specific “these words are referring to this” way. The general theme of the album seems to be living the boring suburban life with boring suburban people. It’s well tread ground, and the nonsense lyrics work well by hinting without ever smacking the listener in the head.
Of course, some of it is nothing more than words that sound good together. For example, take this line from “Oysters,” a mellow rock track that sounds a little bit like early Jawbreaker; “Come on / let’s get in line / I don’t know Yahtzee but I won’t take the time / to learn a new game / this time I’ll try to use my brain.” Um, okay.
Still, this is very much a case of not what is being said, but how it is being said. The delivery is spot on in most places, sounding rushed when it needs to and sounding relaxed when its time to calm down. The avante-garde, gutterpunk sound of the album stays consistent through, succeeding wonderfully on the “Basement Rock” (which is a dance-fest), and “Dirty Ditch” (which might be a revenge song, but fuck if I know). Songs like “Oysters,” which is the most heartfelt cut on the album and “Signs,” which is a herky-jerky surf rock song, do break up the album some, but for the most part the sound doesn’t deviate from the formula.
Just like eating too much bread pudding, one can get sick of We’re Happy To Be Here. After all, man cannot live on dessert alone. But if you give J. Fox a chance, they’ll make life a little bit sweeter.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Key Tacks: Basement Rock, Brooklyn, Dirty Ditch, Oysters
Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy it.