Dominic Fike Combines Surf Rock Sensibilities and Gen Z Posturing on Debut Album ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’
Gen Z artists keep popping up, slowly allowing emergent trends to reveal themselves on larger scales, and speak to the zeitgeist in general. Among some of the most promising of these is Dominic Fike from Naples, Florida, who blends genres in a way that sounds quite natural, yet would normally seem anathema for many. He combines a surf rock sensibility, somewhat particular to his Florida roots, with R&B and hip-hop elements that make their way into his tracks with a type of universal authenticity. Fike has collaborated with the likes of Halsey, who included a track featuring Fike on her last album, “Manic.” Such gestures suggest Fike is an artist who rises above the ranks of his peers, and calls for attention. From Fike’s debut album, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong,” it’s easy to see why. His appeal, of course, goes much further than trendiness, and his new music shows why, displaying an unconcerned blend of traditionally isolated musical styles, thrown together with cool disregard, and an overall aesthetic that finds Fike a neat, secure spot between “hipster” and “bro” mentalities, with plenty of elusive, artistic room in-between.
Fike’s songs are nearly alway on the shorter side, rarely extending past two and a half minutes, and this gives them a sketch-like nature, with tracks often coming across as suggestions of an idea, confident enough as they are. The first taste is “Come Here,” full of swirling, distorted guitars, with Dominic’s voice also distorted, as he repeatedly calls, “Baby, come here / I get so lonely at night.” The lines are similar to some from the previously teased “Carbonator,” although that’s all the songs have in common. Lines like “Why can’t you tell that I’m desperate? / Doesn’t it show in my smile?” anticipate a certain neurosis, under all the celebrity cool, that comes out as the album develops. On “Double Negative (Skeleton Milkshake,)” there are clear surf rock influences, and it’s refreshing how naturally Fike pulls off this sound, as his rather arbitrary combination of influences could easily make such a thing go horribly wrong. There are times when you could almost think you were listening to Surfer Blood, coincidentally or not, another Florida artist. You can definitely somehow hear, however, that Fike is the more likely to have face tats.
This is absolutely an album of the moment. Just look at “Cancel Me,” which finds Fike reverting to the sound that gave him all of those Jack Johnson comparisons early on. When he sings, “I hope they cancel me / So I can go be with my family,” he is, of course, referring to the “cancel culture” sweeping the nation, by which anyone who wavers slightly from the opinions favored by the likes of social media institutions is banished without explanation. It’s a distinctly 2020 concern, and here, we find Fike using it to express his disillusionment with celebrity culture. The next line makes the song only more appropriate to the times, as Fike adds, “So I can quit wearin’ this mask, dawg” — a self-explanatory sentiment. Other striking lines include “Mothafucka, Jimmy Kimmel does not wanna meet me.” Note that Fike made his television debut on “Kimmel,” but that the performance was poorly received overall. The following line is “I told my manager, ‘No more parties in Los Angeles,’” a reference to Kanye West’s “No More Parties in L.A.”
While “Cancel Me” was filled with hip-hop snippets and vague but clear nods to the culture, “10x Stronger” shows no signs of such affinities, with Fike working the surf rock sensibilities, ever so slightly, into a framework of rosy and effusive strings, as he simply repeats, “Da-da-da-da-da.” The nonsensicality of the lyrics certainly enhances the relative outlandishness of the track, and it’s an instance of brash, but effective songwriting restraint. It’s an interesting nexus of styles that Fike lands on, and he continues to turn out different variations of the same set of influences in novel ways. “Good Game” extends from the spirit of the previous track, but gets more beachy, and finds Fike returning to the voice distortion of the opener, although in a less emphatic way, as he sings from the perspective of his father, with lines like “Well, don’t you become your daddy,” although with a sluggish swagger that blurs the lines between who is talking to whom.
Surf rock affinities return on “Why,” which finds Fike questioning a certain lady about her choices in life, vaguely echoing concerns betrayed in the opener, eventually simplifying it all into something only slightly more expressive than “10x Stronger,” as he bellows, “You ever wonder why-y-y-y-y?” Lead single “Chicken Tenders” takes a decidedly different approach. It seems like Fike is trying to find the balance between worlds by appealing to the lowest common denominator on his chosen singles. There are moments that anyone should be able to enjoy on “Chicken Tenders,” but it finds Fike essentially making a caricature of himself, throwing out lines like “Rodeo for Cartier glasses / But, girl, you know how itchy my back get,” and switching between a pair of voices. One of the two voices between which he alternates sounds like a natural pronouncement, and the other like a highly processed, perhaps pitched-up variation. At any rate, Fike is creating a new hybrid style of his own.
As much as Fike’s stylistic choices might be divisive, he does generally always end up taking an individualistic route, somewhat. On “What’s For Dinner?” he confesses, “I just got back from the gastroenterologist / He told me that I can’t drink, so now I be high and shit / And all insensitive / And then when you cry, I get fuckin’ anxiety.” This was never music meant to elegantly capture moderate sentiments, but at least, it’s consistent in its openness. “Vampire” will be a treat for fans of the ‘90s pop that took on a specifically R&B strain as its default. As usual, Fike manages to handle the shuttle of styles somewhat elegantly, sounding natural overall, in the broadest sense. There are moments when this could easily come across like a boy band track, and lines like “Everyone at this party’s a vampire / This ain’t red wine” add to Fike’s disillusionment heard earlier on “Parties in Los Angeles.”
On “Superstar Shit,” Fike returns to the themes of “Cancel Me,” reflecting, “Forgot how good it feels to be alone, you dig? / Watch a movie on your phone, for real,” and leaving the track a mere glimpse into that specific situation and mentality. With “Politics & Violence,” Fike makes one of his most definitive, yet most open ended statements yet, declaring, “All you need to fall in love is / Politics and violence / At least somebody’s drivin’.” Themes combine from across the record, as faint strings introduce a slightly distorted Fike, who runs through his lyrics with the type of beachy empathy that he has by now made his trademark. There’s a striking segment with a beat change, when Fike taps into a Kid Kudi-esque voice, which actually should come as no surprise, with Fike sitting neatly on a nexus, as he always has.
“Joe Blazey” has a similar beat change, even more pronounced this time. It returns to the same anxieties of relationship communication that the opener brushed up upon, Then, halfway, it takes up all the voice distortion of that same opener, along with vague echoes of the strings that characterized “Cancel Me,” as well as Fike at his most rebellious and menacing for a stretch. Toxic relationships take an especial focus on “Wurli,” named after the Wurlitzer piano. The key line is “This is not love, I’m a glorified doorstop,” with Fike, at points, emphasizing lines with an unprecedented rasp and fury in his voice. Altogether, however, the song sounds like a rather elegant mixture of elements exposed earlier. The finale, “Florida,” continues this, fitting together all the eccentric components of Fike’s style with each one revealing itself, after this stretch, more openly than perhaps ever before. Fike begins with bits of Auto-tune, and full hip-hop fury, gets steadily more animated while repping his home state, at one point falls into an unabashed rap, worlds away from his string-led surf excursions earlier, then ends reverting to his beachy “Yeah yeah” vocals, switching stages perhaps a bit drastically, but pulling it off nonetheless.
If artists like Pike continue to pop up regularly, it will be an interesting world indeed. Of course, as time goes on, the line between production and songwriting gets steadily blurrier, and it becomes harder to assume what exactly an artist contributes, apart from a distinctive voice and perhaps good following of directions. On the other hand, music has never been so uncompromisingly open as it is now, with every isolated strata that would never cross paths with one another, crossing paths indeed, and turning out results that speak to a generation begging for such fusing of aesthetics and sensibilities. Fike falls into a pattern of new Zoomer artists that strike a chord with their unique blend of otherwise alien instincts. In his case, there’s a surf rock sensibility, combined with a combination of largely acoustic, decidedly indie songwriting fused with hip-hop and R&B sensibilities, resulting in an overdue contemporary reconciliation.
“What Could Possibly Go Wrong” is available July 31 on Apple Music.