No 1 Left Standing
F.A.M.P. (Fine American Mental Product)
8th ElemEnt EntertainmEnt / 2011
by Andrew C. Schlett
Y’all know that I’ve been holding this one back. It’s been well over a month now since the big huge 8th ElemEnt Album release party at the Summit Music Hall here in Denver and I swear that, before walking into that show, I really only cared about one of the three records being dropped on the public that night. N1LS! The rest was going to be just filler to me, opening bands. So caught up did I become in the solid acts of all the other artists, though, that by the time that evening was over I not only wanted to hear the other two discs, but I wanted to review and promote them as well! Hence the delay in getting to sit down with this one, but that postponement works to the overall benefit of F.A.M.P. All this time it has been sitting in my CD player, in my truck deck, and in my PC and cellphone playlists. It has been listened to often and has been absorbed quite thoroughly, burned into my very soul, as it were, and I think I’m finally ready to get down to some serious introspection with it.
Before I really start into this review, though, I should send a quick shout-out to both Menice and to Y-Jay & Fame, and thank them again for helping send this heavy-metal guy onto an unmarked path through a darkly unfamiliar woods! You boys made a large impact! Please find my reviews of their material, if you haven’t already, here on the Rivethead website. So it’s probably not surprising, then, I look forward to reviewing hip-hop discs by some of the other 8th ElemEnt artists as well, since that particular stable is just chock-full of Derby winners!
Now that all of this has been accomplished, though, the only thing left standing is No 1 Left Standing. Crowned “The Best Band In Denver” in 2009, competing for that honor here again in 2011, and currently being shown much love to by the highly popular Willie B. and Uncle Nasty over at 106.7 KBPI radio, N1LS has already amassed quite a legion of fans around these parts and has established themselves as one of the foremost bands along the Front Range. F.A.M.P. (Fine American Mental Product) is the group’s third release and is their most anticipated one to date. Clocking in at 12 tracks and just over 35 minutes, it is also their second full-length album and was mixed and mastered at the well-known Colorado Sound Studios in Denver. Therefore it enjoys all the high-level studio recording, top-shelf production, slick packaging, label backing, and media promotion that a release of such high aspiration deserves. Even without any of that, though, it would still be a pretty bitchin’ disc to listen to!
For those unfamiliar with the sound put out by N1LS, I would best describe them as a Rage/Beasties sort of hybrid with a local touch of Rocky Mountain altitude thrown into the mix. The album opens with the long, slow fade-in ‘Committed’ and then crashes right through to the title track ‘F.A.M.P.’. This song, which touches upon the history of the band and the changes it has gone through, is rapped over the sort of metal that will catch the attention of any tuned-in headbanger! Indeed the entire album from beginning to end features chunky, catchy, and at times quite intricate guitar riffs; a heavy bass line that both thumps and throbs throughout; hardcore percussion with a slamming double-mallet kick; and a solid bulk of well-constructed, intelligently-written lyrics to fill in between the melodic choruses and the heavy guitar leads. Several of the songs on this album could be starred as potential radio airplay material; ‘F.A.M.P.’ is only one of them.
Next up is ‘American Psycho’, a tunefully heavy rant against social apathy and the increasingly frivolous diversions of modern life. The band’s social conscience makes its first appearance here. “Red dawn on the horizon, ring the alarm, car bombs, soccer moms better turn that TV on / So you can forget what’s going on, on this planet that you’re from, let ‘em build their atom bombs as long as your favorite show is on.” James Belarde, the lead singer and primary lyricist of N1LS, has much to say, and this is only the beginning of his dis’ trip!
‘After School Fight’ follows, and over the crashing guitars and insistently driven rhythm, Belarde reflects upon his own personal growth from angry teen to beaten-down-by-life-yet-still-angry adult. “All the time I used to spend constructing verses to help me vent / is now filled up working for child support and rent.” He then finds and seizes upon the hope that comes from his music, and embraces the shared plight of many like him in the chorus: “Until my dying breath I’m gonna speak out for the weak / so even after I’m dead my voice becomes my legacy.” Many points are touched upon in this song, but there is one more lyrical clip that must be included because I think it speaks to the motivation of all performing musicians, a body of people whom I, without any journalistic shame whatsoever, hold in high esteem. Belarde says: “I don’t know why we feel tha need to say tha things we do / or why we get on stage and work so hard to play these shows for you. / I guess it’s just tha sickness that’s in us and you all have witnessed / when on stage it’s down to business and we don’t care if no one listens!”
The fifth song on this album, ‘Piggy Piggy’ is one of my personal favorites. After a rhythmic percussion opening and sweet intersecting bass line, the guitars in this song just seem to crash even heavier than they do in some of the others. As well, lyrically this is a social-activism song, lampooning the continued illegality of harmless leafy green substances, while spotlighting the unjust laws in our nation with regard to hard-drug abuse as a whole, and the overall perception of hard-drug addiction as a crime instead of an illness. A dedication is offered in the very midst of all the mayhem-metal shredding, as Belarde drops out of rap and speaks directly to the young, incarcerated kid who might have gotten busted once with a rock and is now so deep in the system he can no longer see daylight. “To all my brothers & sisters serving time for an addiction / to a drug that was introduced to our society to fund the mission / of these fuckin’ pigs that hooked your parents on crack / stabbed them all in the back and tried to blame it on the blacks.” More mayhem-metal shredding ensues, but the song ends with a heartfelt prayer that N1LS “will not rest until we finally hear freedom ring. Let freedom ring… run, pig!”
‘Jimmy Tha Kid’ is another very catchy toe-tapping tune and is the first song in which gas masks make a lyrical appearance. Gas masks are a very big deal to No 1 Left Standing. At the disc release party, they came out and played the entire first song in gas masks. The cover art on this disc is a sketched recreation of the Iwo Jima flag planting, but the soldiers are now mutants and they are wearing gas masks. When you open the case the cover folder displays a gas mask. Upon opening that, one is presented with a tri-fold visual montage of the entire lyrical content of this album painted very small in a dark-reddish tone over a brown edifice resembling graven-like images of the four figures on Mount Rushmore… but again all wearing gas masks! It is difficult to make out these lyrics, but the overall visual effect is quite dramatic and props must be given to the artist, Rocky Barber, and to the graphic layout designer, Alicia Borley, for their clever work. Inside the cover one finds a photo of Old Glory displayed, backlit, with a shadowy figure moving behind it. Photos are credited to Niki Mack, nice one there! N1LS is proud to advocate their brand of patriotism, which is to fight for the type of freedom that this country was founded upon. Belarde is also very happy to paint himself as the original American Outlaw. “Lemme take you back like an acid flashback / tummy full of Jack and some fungus in my backpack. / A story ‘bout the past and an old-school badass / in a ten-gallon hat with baggy pants and a gas mask. // Who never had no love for Mr. Johnny Law / maybe that’s because the law’s always been wrong. / Who am I to sit and judge societies flaws? / I’m Jimmy Tha Kid, with six shots in my paw!” Belarde, as many rappers, is wont to be viewed as a larger-than-life character, and ‘Jimmy Tha Kid’ is his theme music. Every good hero needs theme music! (Yeah, you know where I ripped that line from.) This theme music, which the band plays with aplomb, is perky and upbeat, jaunty almost, like an updated thrash/rap version of one of those old pirate-movie-musicals from the 1930s. Thirteen men on a dead man’s chest, indeed!
Continuing down this patriotic path, the seventh track is titled “American Me”. This song starts out with a twangy guitar too, and the entire first movement is a sort of bluegrass-jazz medley that you just know is going to erupt into something loud! As Belarde comes in, he tells of how N1LS has crawled their gas-masked selves up out of the Wasteland to make a visible mark on the world around them. “Tha spray paint never drags when RedRum drops tha tags, / It’s my freedom of speech it’s just American Me.” They are here to disrupt the status quo of society, and particularly to challenge the current musical paradigms of genre classification and the practice of assigning labels to anything that an artist might put out. Watch out, suits and ties!
‘Ain’t On The List’ comes next. This song, which had originally been called ‘Mr. Lean’ but that had to be renamed following some shake-ups within the group, speaks to life in a working band and the inevitability of pissing off someone who is not on your list but feels they should be. This is more of a hardcore song, I think, than some of the others, perhaps in a musical attempt to deter those who are too weak to handle a simple dis! No 1 Left Standing makes it very clear that they have no time for haters.
Another song starred for potential commercial release, at least by me, is “Pink Slip”. This ripping jam plays like the street-drag racing scene that it sings to, carrying the listener along with velocity and speed right up to the chorus, “Cause I live and die, for tha green light, for tha finish line. / See my tail lights, as I pass you by, leave you far behind.” Then it breaks a little and cuts right back into the heavy groove. “Never comin’ last, huffin purple gas, leader of the pack with the wind against my back. / Strappin’ on my gas mask, speakers turned up full blast, smoking as I pass your ass, now who’s got the last laugh?” The band cranks like a well-lubed hemi from beginning to end here, and this is a very tuneful little number to listen to. Hence my suggestion of airplay?
The tenth track is ‘Recall Of The Century’. This song calls for the general product recall of all established government and social structures, laid down over a thrashing jazzy bass line and, again, the heaviest guitar riffs. “Time to fill tha glass that’s been sittin half empty, they say we’ve got plenty but we’re all still pinching pennies… / It’s hard to weather the storm, they want the poor to remain poor, there’s gotta be something more than this life we can’t afford. / Empty the shelves of all that bullshit they sell, tell ‘em this is where we dwell and for once just fuckin’ yell!” N1LS points out that the established authorities are no longer required within today’s society, and offers to boldly lead the way in this social upheaval toward the general anarchistic trendings of modern humanity. “Cock back tha sling/fire/reload, it’s the recall of the century / No longer need these so-called powers that be, it’s the return of tha Gas Mask Society,”
The next song, ‘Stick Em Up’ is really the last song on the F.A.M.P. album, since the twelfth track, ‘Lobotomy’, can’t really be called a song. ‘Stick Em Up’ disses those who dis the excesses of rock lifestyle, out-of-control partying, the trashing of green rooms, and the like. They make no apologies for some of their behaviors in the past, and offer no assurances of compliance in the future. “We’re musicians,” they basically are saying here. “What do you expect?” It’s a good song to end the disc on, since this scene and many like it are likely to be a part of No 1 Left Standing’s foreseeable future.
As I am absorbed in listening to this disc once again, this time paying particularly close attention for the purpose of review, I am suddenly stricken by the possibility that there may a funky, almost Morris Day-esque aspect to N1LS’ music that is so subtle it probably escapes damn near everybody. The thrashing guitars and heavy crunch are what hook most fans, indeed, they are what hooked me, but beneath all that crash is a solidly constructed and very bluesy rhythm line between the bass and drums, at least when they are not in the midst of ripping, and that is quite appealing. N1LS succeeds with this release on variety of levels both musical and lyrical, and you should certainly pick up a copy to add to your library, especially if you like Rage, or the Beasties. They don’t sound like either one of those bands, precisely, but in a world where comparisons must be made, that’s what I got and that’s what I’m giving to you!
F.A.M.P. is released through 8th ElemEnt Records and can be purchased directly from their website, www.8thelement.net. It is also available at any Independent Records location, which I understand to have nationwide outlets. Failing all else, No 1 Left Standing does live gigs frequently around town and plans an out-of-state tour later on this summer, so you can get one of their discs at any gas-masked show they play!
Because tha Wasteland matters!
8th ElemEnt homepage: http://www.8thelement.net/
"Piggy Piggy" "Jimmy Tha Kid" "American Me"
By exclusive arrangement with 8th ElemEnt Ent. and No 1 Left Standing, here are three songs from F.A.M.P.
BECAUSE THE MUSIC MATTERS!!!
Watch the N1LS video "Social Epidemic" live from the Gothic Theatre, Denver CO, 05/04/12