Federation X – Rally Day

5 out of 5

Produced by: Ryan Anderson

Label: Estrus Records

Picking up Federation X’s Rally Day at random due to its sickly psychedelic cover art, the group having had worked with Steve Albini previously, and awareness of the kind of garage rock toward which label Estrus generally catered, I expected rooty, rawkin’ riffage given a raw and forefronted recording sound, and – from opener Nightmare Nation’s immediately catchy swing – nodded in self-affirmation of my assessment. But, whereas the above combination of factors might lead to quality listens that don’t necessarily require an instant replay – good stuff, but there’s other good stuff to listen to – I found myself returning to Rally Day again, and again, and suddenly unable to find exactly the same quality in other Southern-tinged rockers.

Fed X presents a nexus of a lot of things that aren’t instantly apparent: the sound and they’re long-haired look are as, at a high level, as mentioned or suggested by the above, but whereas you might chuckle at the down-home wisdom of a track title like ‘Hydrogen Nitrogen & Bullshit,’ that follows right after something a bit more puzzling and bleak: ‘In This Sad Room, In This Dark Gloom We Live Like Beasts.’ Drilling down lyrically, you’ll find rather complex themes throughout Rally Day, propped up by lines that may seem like more simplistic anti-authority or relationship-odes, but give way to quite darker and more thoughtful stuff. I can’t say it’s all exactly clear, but it’s worth listening to, and gives some oomph beyond a memorable chorus when you find yourself – inevitably – humming along. And those tunes which are so invigorating are a pretty precise blend of factors, overwhelmed by how damn good the core riff of each track sounds: there’s the usual alternative rock puffing things up, but the bridges and breakdowns speak of post-rock and hardcore influences, and the occasional flurries of guitar wizardry and the way the percussion owns time changes, and flips between steady patter and complex fills, suggests our Fed X bandmembers are quite skilled in ways the loose playing style – very much supported by Ryan Anderson’s production – doesn’t immediately advertise.

In short: there’s so much more to Federation X, and Rally Day, than my judged-by-its-cover suggested, and even 15 years on, listening to this thing, I’m in love with how dense it is, and yet how smartly every track pushes its riff up front, guaranteeing toe-tapping buy in while you’re then swarmed with twisty lyrics and expert, nuanced playing.