“Excuse me, sir. Do you have a minute to talk about rock and roll?”
So interjects Rebecca Bortman, lead singer of Happy Fangs, in the middle of Capricorn’s opening track. It’s a cheeky question, delivered with heavy reverb during a short break in the sludgy, driving guitar and drums, and probably more than anything it’s an invitation not to take the rest of the album too seriously. In an independent scene that’s threatening to drown in its own self-reference and synthesizers, this San Francisco homebrew has provided some much-needed levity with good, old-fashioned, high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.
Drawing from influences as varied as Black Sabbath and The Beach Boys (comparisons to Yeah Yeah Yeahs are inevitable as well, given Bortman’s gleefully frenetic vocals), Happy Fangs are a distillation of all that is head-bangingly fun. The group consists of just three members – Bortman on vocals, Michael Cobra on guitar, and Jess Gowrie on drums – which creates an atmosphere in which the listener isn’t bogged down by unnecessary complexity. Their music isn’t simple, but it’s refreshingly straightforward.
Where 2013’s self-titled EP was perhaps more of a throwback piece, bringing to mind the teenage rebelliousness of Joan Jett, Capricorn is polished, dark, and demonstrates an originality that isn’t beholden to the band’s spiritual predecessors. “Contagious,” the second track, is the first indication that these guys have tapped into a relatively untouched niche and made it their own. It’s a power-punk anthem, propelled by vocals that range from anticipatory crooning to explosive screams, and the resulting sound is infectious.
With this, plus later songs like “In The Morning” and “Controlled Burn,” Happy Fangs show without a doubt that pop sensibility and intelligent songwriting aren’t mutually exclusive. A healthy dose of lyrical poignancy from time to time (“To love is to have / But to want is too grand / When you know it can’t be yours alone / Owning doesn’t mean / You get to control”) adds depth to what could, in less capable hands, be somewhat forgettable pieces. On the other hand, they can still goof around with something like “Hiya Kaw Kaw,” a song about a metaphorical “vulture schooled in martial arts” that deals with repressed emotion and self-expression.
As punk and straight-up rock scenes enjoy a resurgence, especially here in San Francisco, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Happy Fangs break out to a national audience with Capricorn. Their confident energy and irresistible catchiness seem a perfect storm for people who need a little break from low-key, art-house electronic music. And as with any band that puts so much focus on its live performances, we’re excited as hell to see them at the Rickshaw Stop this Saturday.