A little dose of anger is simply not enough. California rock quartet French Mouth's debut EP Paper Tiger rips and sears through thick layers of emotional fabric, cutting deep to the essence of truth when it comes to living in a world which we have no choice but shape for ourselves. Led by vocalist and guitarist Dee Frank, Paper Tiger sounds unmistakably urgent and up-close, cementing French Mouth as one of the most exciting new rock bands right now and providing more fuel for all of our emotional fires.
An active concern for Frank's songwriting since 2018, French Mouth properly came together last year with the current lineup that includes guitarist Jacque Parras, drummer Brittany Macc, and bassist Brandon Reyes. "Most of the band is Hispanic, and we all come from working-class roots," Frank explains, further stating that when Macc—who also plays in NoMBe—joined French Mouth she "Took the band to another level." As a collective, French Mouth grew up on a steady diet of punk, heavy metal, and hip-hop, with professed influences ranging from At the Drive-In's fast-paced punk rock to Jesus Lizard's beautifully ugly noise rock.
"I like things loud and dirty," Frank proclaims, and Paper Tiger indeed reflects those sonic values. These songs are like buzzsaws to the brain, with explosive guitar work, dynamic rhythm interplay, and Frank's expressive vocals that possess the ability to transform from a menacing croon to a miles-wide howl in a matter of moments. It's music that recalls some of the most vital rock of the last 20 years, from the aforementioned ATDI to Blood Brothers' frantic post-hardcore sound and the richly textured emo rock of bands like Pretty Girls Make Graves and Les Savy Fav.
The first single and title track was also the first song French Mouth wrote under the current lineup, as Frank addresses navigating adolescence amidst his father, who spent most of the former's youth in prison. " The song is about coming to terms with a lot of things I was living in fear of my entire adult life," he explains. "I realized that when I looked at my trauma, it wasn't even what I thought it was—it was a paper tiger, a projection of all the things I've lived in fear of and didn't want to confront."
And recording Paper Tiger as a whole was an evocative emotional experience for Frank, who dug deep into his past and present to explore the depths of where he's come from and how it's shaped who he is: "I like to sing about my experience with trauma. I wasn't raised to talk about my trauma, so the way I get it out is through my lyrics. There's a lot of anger underneath this music. It's about expressing pain." And atop the glistening-icicle guitar chords and Macc's pounding beat of "Teal," Frank swaps perspectives between his father and himself as he explores the former's viewpoint as a first-generation Mexican in the prison system from a young age. "I'm asking my mother, 'Is this the behavior I have instilled in me?,'" he opines. "Is rebellious nature inherent?"
And while asking those questions on Paper Tiger, French Mouth find themselves in a cross-section with many of the issues surrounding authority and systemic racial oppression that have driven society to take to the streets in demand of justice—issues that Frank and his bandmates have stared down their whole lives and are now coming to terms with using their own unique, confrontational, and impossible-to-ignore platform of their music. "I got in a lot of trouble in my teenage years, and I think a lot of people of color like myself sometimes wonder the same thing," he states before asking a key question that will be left ringing in countless listeners' heads long after the final moments of Paper Tiger play out: "Is the system that's here designed to work against me?" - Larry Fitzmaurice (Pitchfork)