Well, plaid flannel is back in for fall and that ‘90s grunge sound is back in the form of Cancers’ debut album, Fatten the Leeches. Riffs, distortion, and a slacker attitude fill this album with comparisons to many top bands of grunge’s original. The Athens, Georgia-based duo even enlisted “Godfather of Grunge” Jack Endino to produce the album; Endino worked with Nirvana, Hole, Soundgarden, and Babes in Toyland back in the day. The album is a fresh take on grunge, but adds in dream pop vocals that, at times, make perfect sense but, at others, take away some of the songs’ bite.
With lead vocals provided by Ella Kaspar, Cancers immediately draw comparisons to other female-fronted bands like Veruca Salt or Garbage. There are a few songs where the comparison is valid, but on many tracks Kaspar’s vocals could fit into dream pop. They’re downright breathy on “Razorblade” and “Be Cool.” The softness mixed with heavy distortion on “Liar” makes sense to show vulnerability and pain (lyrics about being lied to and used include “keep me dumb, keep me weak.”) “Hole in My Head” is comparable to The Breeders, but the vocals are so soft and innocent they don’t convey the anger for which the lyrics call. Kaspar finally harnesses anger at the end of the album with “Dig;” Courtney Love and Shirley Manson come to mind. The angst comes through on “Sick,” matching the riffs and attitude of the song. These two are stand-outs and I wish that this badass attitude was evident on more tracks.
This album is even fuzzier than the flannel shirt you’re sporting this fall. Underneath all the distortion, the guitar takes the lead with riffs and some catchy hooks. Instead of a wall of sound as you might expect with the dream pop vocals, the guitar is straight out of grunge and has definition. The opening track, “Be Cool,” is power pop and kind of repetitive. There aren’t a lot of lyrics and the one riff is getting a whole lot of use. It made me think of when you discover a great band when they’re on their fourth album so you go back and check out their first album and well, it’s just not to the caliber of their more recent catalogue. The album gets stronger, so hang in there. “Moral Net” has some great drums that could have been taken from some pop punk from the later ‘90s. “Liar” is a quiet song that starts of with a sample of a weird cat meowing. Its mellow, watery guitar is a good match for the dark, sad theme. The album ends on a big, angsty note with “Sick” and “Dig.” These two tracks eschew the dream pop for the full-on grunge and they bring Smashing Pumpkins to mind.
Though every comparison I came up with for this album was from the early ‘90s, there’s enough to keep the album fresh. Combining those soft, dreamy vocals with the angst- and ennui-fueled instrumentals makes it different from the music from much of Cancers’ current contemporaries. Also helping it stay fresh is that it’s hard to get sick of this brief album when the 10 songs clock in under 25 minutes. Staying true to the old school sound, this album is being released on cassette, as well as on CD, vinyl, and digitally. So you know, if you packed your Walkman away with that flannel shirt, it’s time to bring them both out of storage.