Hey! Listen! Hey! Listen! Hey! Listen! I would like to apologize to all the kids who got their skinny jeans in a bunch when their eyes skimmed over the word “breakdown” – Welcome to the Breakdown may be lacking in down-tuned, chugging guitars and bass-drops, but this album is one definitely worth shelling out a few rupees for. Recent years have shown, in the spirit of progression, the chiptune genre appearing out of the ashes of the nerd rock genre popularized in the ‘90s. I Fight Dragons is doing for the latter genre what Weezer did for the former – not only helping to found it, but to advance it in every sense of the word. The Chicago-native 5-piece releases their latest EP on November 27, so skip the Saturday morning cartoons and journey to your nearest record shop/potions dealer to pick up Welcome to the Breakdown.
I Fight Dragons’s sophomore EP is more refreshing than a swig from Zora’s Fountain. Where some albums try to land towards one side of the scale between infectious and introspective, Welcome to the Breakdown achieves both and never sounds forced. As the synth-laden, danceable title track of the EP, “Welcome to the Breakdown” has all kinds of radio potential, but doesn’t toss out artistic integrity. The song’s hook is absurdly memorable, and appears as a le motif throughout the EP. Uplifting and fast-paced, “Give It Up” is an EP highlight that will make you get off your ass and save that princess. The slower-paced, anthemic “Just Decide” has strong power-pop sensibilities that bring Weezer back to mind. The fuzzy guitar tones and atypical chord progressions of “No Kontrol” create some musical diversity within the album. The punky feel of the song gives it a distinctive garage-rock sound, or perhaps more appropriately, a just-dusted-off-the-old-NES-in-the-garage-rock sound.
“I Fight Ganon” is a heroic take on the Legend of Zelda theme – the song begins with a three-part acapella rendition of the theme, swelling to a full-band juggernaut that would indulge even the most disciplined headbanger. “Not I” is the only real slow song on Welcome to the Breakdown. The song uses NES sounds discerningly, and shows that the band can still hold their own when the music is stripped down to its basics. “The Power of Love” is a fun cover of an ‘80s classic by Huey Lewis and the News that most will know as “that song from Back to the Future”. The song is not only good for a hearty chuckle from your friends when they hear it playing in your car – the powerful guitars, catchy NES sounds, and saccharine harmonies intrinsic in I Fight Dragons’s music enhance the already tuneful classic. The band uses this song as an opportunity to show off their skills – cue slap bass and hair metal guitar solo.
Each musician in I Fight Dragons is of the highest caliber. Lead vocalist, guitarist, and NES-player Brian Mazzaferri is a master of the art of melody-crafting, while Chad Van Dahm lays down better-than-your-average-drummer beats without sacrificing tightness for a parsec. Hari Rao’s intricate bass lines, melodic and driving, give the songs on Welcome to the Breakdown a needed low-end push, while Packy Lundholm provides the band’s characteristic harmonies while demonstrating his undeniable guitar chops. Bill Prokopow is anything but your average keyboardist – in addition to handling vocals and keys, Prokopow is a virtuoso of a myriad of other unconventional instruments, including the NES Advantage, Power Pad, NES Zapper, and a modified Guitar Hero controller. The technical ability of the members of I Fight Dragons and the diversity of the instruments they play are both contributing factors to the strength of their latest effort.
The dual demographics of this band are a big part of what makes them great – Welcome to the Breakdown appeals to lovers of both infectious pop rock and of GameBoys and The Legend of Zelda, while those who fall under both categories are sure to fall in love with this band of dragon slayers. More impressive still is their ability to meet adversity head-on – in this case, the adversity taking the form of the recent resignation of core band members – and turn it into a great album. I Fight Dragons’s new EP seeks to be substantial, catchy, and fun without surrendering an ounce of rock power – an ambitious endeavor, but one that is super effective.