When FonFon Ru started playing shows a couple years ago, I remember thinking how foolish it would be to try to guess what they’d sound like. Four dudes in their early/mid-twenties with incredible chops and a ton of rock education, they could truly have gone in any direction.

With their debut album, Death and Texas, released last week, FonFon Ru have indeed found an identity: they're a straightforward rock band. They just happen to have gotten there by boiling down a multitude of influences from the outer limits of rock history, like shoegaze, Krautrock, '60s psych, SST-era punk, Godspeed-y post-rock, no wave, '90s indie, and much more.

This is more than a semantic point. The musical canon is only growing bigger, and artists today have a suffocating amount of influences to heed and not heed. Often, as if borrowing a strategy from the marketing department, bands assign themselves a genre before they ever play a note.

That’s not true here. FonFon Ru are nimble stylists, but there's nothing affectatious about this record. Certain guitar riffs or vocal lines recall Swervedriver, the Strokes, Great Western Plain, Sonic Youth, Whale Oil, James Murphy, Husker Du, or Interpol, but it wouldn't make sense to say FonFon Ru sound like any of those. They're just baked into the hardware. There's some solid studio work and production tricks on Death and Texas, but the band’s sound has a certain unflashiness that's impossible to fake. It's as though they simply played together long enough to discover they sounded how they did.

With half of the songs five minutes or longer, the album accomplishes much over its eight tracks. Opener "Dust In My Eye" gathers tension over a muscly six of them, as guitarist and sometimes-singer Cormac Shirer Brown lets his instruments fly as the other three push a machine-like rhythmic grind. "Plan Ditcher," a highlight, balances frontman Harry James's soaring, stirring vocals against Brown's excellent guitar work. A similar balance works on "ASMRGUMENTS," a satisfying track, and another where Jimi LeDue's basslines reveal their greatness over repeated listens. "We're only in love when we're drunk," James sings in his blown-out croon, the second of his songs about a relationship cracking open, as Brown's guitar carries the sentiment to its final stop.

Another nice development from the band's early days is the overall evolution of the vocals. I remember early songs having vocals that that sounded barkier, shoutier, less melodic. That's a solid approach if you're a punk band, but it was clear early on that FonFon Ru was more about depth and complexity than confrontation. Here, whether it's a style choice or a product of hard-earned comfort and trust, the vocals are immense and great. With the band's relative absence of timbres and time signatures (standard rock band setup, distorted guitars, 4/4 time signatures), their ability to craft melodies, emotions, and tones proves here to be crucial. James handles six of the eight tracks, and besides the goofy "I Think We Should Believe in Other People," which sounds like a demo compared to the rest of the record, it's his vocal melodies that keep these songs in my mind hours later.

The closing track, the title track, is an eight-minute catharsis, its slow-boiling heat passed back and forth between James's powerful wails and Brown's guitar. It's a powerful song and perfect closer (with an excellently psychedelic video directed by Portland filmmaker Mackenzie Bartlett — check the band's website). But its yearning emotional lurch delivers an odd nostalgic sadness. What is the band going to do now that Cormac Shirer Brown is moving to Los Angeles? Word is they’ll give it a go as a trio with Brown's long-distance help, but even if that works, it may be hard to retain the vital familial energy they've found on their debut. Perhaps the question of what FonFon Ru is gonna sound like is still unanswered after all.

Death and Texas | by FonFon Ru | https://fonfonru.bandcamp.com

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