I Fight Dragons (IFD) have always occupied a unique place in the music zeitgeist. In their first few albums, they combined the styles of chiptune (where sound effects from old computers or gaming systems are used to create music) with pop rock sensibilities. As one would expect from this type of band, they’ve largely abandoned old music distribution methods in favor of using platforms like Kickstarter to fund their album and almost exclusively using digital distribution once the album is finished.
The Near Future, their latest full-length album, shows their evolution, and shows that they’re more than just a “gimmicky nerd band” through their accessible-yet-well-crafted music and lyrics. You’re not going to find any technical Mark Tremonti-style “flying fingers” guitar solos in this one (though they have a decent one in “Pretend”), but the music is well-done and the chiptune aesthetic changes the pace at appropriate points to hold the listener’s interest. The lyrics are also not terribly deep, but they have just enough seriousness mixed with razor wit (such as “I don’t dance and I’ve got no strings,” from “No Strings”). The lyrics also repackage old ideas in a somewhat new way, such as in “Another Week,” which conveys the feeling of chasing after someone you can’t seem to reach, with language that’s just a little more subtle than typical pop music. This can also be heard in “Jimmy & Sally,” which describes two people that are later revealed to be opposite sides of the main character’s personality. “Always” is also one of the most sincerely romantic songs I’ve heard in a long time.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this album is that it is a loose concept album. The first ten tracks tell a story in which the main character rescues a woman he eventually falls in love with, depicted through videos the band posted on YouTube. The album art fits this theme. Later tracks form a “side two” of the album and are at best marginally connected to the story. When most bands try to do this in their albums, it often comes out convoluted and feels like they’re trying too hard (I’m looking at you, Green Day and Trans-Siberian Orchestra) but IFD’s story flows really well and is easy to follow. They also repeat musical themes and ideas within the album (the motive in “Prelude” comes back several times, for instance). Also, there are several riffs in some songs which feel like hybrids of riffs in other songs, such as “No Strings,” which feels like a combination of the riffs from “Time to Fly” and “Another Week.” These elements add to The Near Future’s cohesiveness and even makes it feel a little bit like film music.
All of this adds up to a great experience that I think would appeal to both the nerd set and mainstream music fans. The only drawback I see with this album is that while the chiptune sounds are very much still there (I feel like “Rescue” would fit right in as stage music in a classic Mega Man game), they were dramatically reduced from IFD’s previous album KABOOM! I can see why they did this; they probably don’t want to be pigeonholed or labeled as a gimmick. While I understand those concerns, I feel like the chiptune sounds are what differentiate this band from others, and without them, they are in danger of sounding like just another one of the hundreds of pop-rock outfits out there. That said, this album is a good change of pace for them, and everything is so tight and well-executed on it that it’s hard to nitpick very much. I’d give The Near Future a buy it rating, and would encourage anyone to go grab it on Amazon so that these guys can continue to make great music. Here are my track picks:
(For more background info on the band if you’re interested, check out my post on Nerdy Minds Magazine.)