I have been following I Fight Dragons for almost a decade now, including their journey from self-produced to being a label band and rejecting that to going back to being self-produced. I was a backer on their last album, the ambitious concept record The Near Future. That was a seemingly long five years ago. I’ve said before that I ended up enjoying the B-side of the record a lot more, and I think that’s because the lyrics resonated a bit more with me. But for a while I thought maybe the stress of the Kickstarter (in which they ended up ditching an almost completed version of the album and starting over) had split the band.
One thing I’ve always enjoyed about I Fight Dragons is that they seemed to make rock for adults rather than kids. I think they’re probably just writing music for themselves and we seem to be roughly the same age. A great example would be Suburban Doxology from 2011’s KABOOM! talking about the burnout that can come from a desk job. An analogy I’m starting to probably use a bit too much: as a kid I sympathized with Ariel in The Little Mermaid, now I sympathize with King Triton. Or, to bring it back to music: last week I listened to MxPx’s Teenage Politics, one of my favorite albums in middle school. It was not the same to listen to it. Lest you think it’s just nostalgia, Barenaked Ladies Stunt, which I got as a present when I was in high school still holds up because it’s much more adult (in fact, In the Car was a bit adult for me back then!) I feel that Canon Eyes is a great return to what I love about I Fight Dragons.
I was a part of the Patreon for this album and I enjoyed hearing the sound evolve from the acoustic demos through to the final mixes. I was afraid that, having heard variations on the songs for the entire cycle, I wouldn’t get as much out of the final album. My fears turned out to be unfounded because the final mixes put that final necessary bit of polish onto the songs that still made them sound fresh in the final sequence. The band stated they were going for a 90s sound and I think they were successful without the music sounding dated.
I think this is I Fight Dragon’s best album so far and, after a week of listening, here are my impressions per track:
- Artifact – a song lamenting the current lack of popularity for rock. A good rocking song and a great opener for the album. My favorite line: “I am a dinosaur/ I was alive before we started fighting gulf wars”. Goes along with what I was stating above that this is rock by and for an older crowd who still loves to rock.
- Not Done Yet – Another great song that deals with getting older. A lot of rock, being for the younger crowd is about how the world needs to take them seriously because they’re here and they’re ready to take on the world! This song considers being a bit older, but realizing that there’s still time left for our dreams. I LOVE the opening lines: “When I was young I thought I knew everything about most everything / the answers had that ring of easy truth. But the older I get the more I see that everything I thought was black and white was grey and undefined the whole damned time.” So. Damn. True.
- Punch Drunk Destiny – a torch-carrying love song that doesn’t annoy me.
- Oh the Places You’ll Go – a gem of a song. I think this is going to end up being on a lot of birth videos and/or graduation videos. Every time I hear the song, I think of my kids and tear up a little. While it takes the premise of the Dr. Seuss book of the same name – the person hear it still has so much ahead of them – what really gets me are the lines where the singer talks about how there’s hardship that the listener will experience and they can’t be protected from it all, but reassurance that they’ll come out of it stronger.
- A New Brain – this is another great song; this time from the perspective of Dorothy when she gets back from Oz and is trying to deal with the experience ending back up in Kansas.
- While We’re Still Young – This song occupies an interesting spot in the middle of the album as if to say, “yeah, we’re older now, but not THAT old!” I think it might be the second-most 90s song on here. It’s also, in an album full of awesome songs, the one that scores second-lowest for me, even though it’s not a bad song.
- Never Go Alone – it’s a more mature version of the love song trope – things are better with me. It shows that maturity with lyrics like “sometimes it hurts / sometimes you lose your way / sometimes the words run off the page / just take a breath, we’ll be ok” as well as the chorus. Essentially this isn’t your teeny bopper song where everything’s hunky-dory because you’re together. But if you put the work into it, things will really work out well.
- One and Done – a song about those days where you just keep getting in your own way. Again, not a bad song. But surrounded by so many great songs, my least favorite on the album.
- Lighthouse on the Sea – another love song. This one, as you can probably guess by the title, is about being someone’s rock or….lighthouse. I mean, it’s kind of a perfectly self-explanatory metaphor.
- The Devil You Know – the most 90s song on the record (in my opinion) and it definitely sounds like it’s from an alternate universe Cake album. This one had quite a few transformations throughout the album process, but I think this final form works really well.
- Burning it Down – this song and the next one show off singer Brian Mazzaferri’s range on this album. It’s a ballad that takes things down a notch as the album nears its end. It’s about leaving behind the things that aren’t working for us. But rather than a power-rock song, going for a ballad gives it a lot of power. It also causes guitars that come in at the end to create a really powerful song. It was the most transformed throughout the process, but it came out all the better for it. It’s probably my second or third favorite song on the album depending on how I’m feeling about the songs at any given time.
- Good Morning Sunlight – an almost acoustic song that’s kind of the perfect song to end the album on. It’s about having finally come out of a dark time and looking optimistically forward.
The boys have put together a great album, and I think it’s definitely the culmination of all their talents in writing lyrics, playing instruments, and finding the perfect engineer to bring it all together. I can’t wait until they make their way to the East Coast again so I can hear these songs live.
I Fight Dragons have asked Patreon backers to please not post any audio from the album as they’re releasing the tracks one at a time. Once the whole album is out, I’d like to create a post that shows the evolution of a couple of the songs, using 10-15 clips of a couple of the songs through their evolution.
As for where they go from here, I think if they want to put out another album, but take a break from the more involved process of coming up with an album from scratch, I’d love to hear them do a Beatles cover album. When they teamed up with Nikki Lynette for some remixes, they did a great cover of And Your Bird Can Sing and when they were last in town for a concert they ended their set with a cover of The End. I think they would do a pretty great job either mixing it up or sticking to one album.