After Fike’s mysterious four million record deal to Columbia Records in 2016, the missing archetype of Florida’s rising bad-boy, indie-pop star had finally been fulfilled. Taking brave steps into the sunlight with the release of an EP, hits like ‘Phone Numbers’ & ‘3 Nights’, and his debut album What Could Possibly Go Wrong in 2018, Fike reminded audiences that, despite his trendy demeanour, he was far from one ready to be phased out of existence – in fact, he was here to stay. What followed on was an impressive and smooth transition from music to acting, with Fike starring in HBO’s Euphoria alongside stars like Zendaya and now-ex Hunter Schafer. But what was next? The answer lies within his latest sophomore record, Sunburn – an album sweltering with candid strife, childhood trauma, home, and a forgotten innocence.
The idea of a childhood innocence lost to the cruelling gaze of Floridian sun and heat
Immediately, Sunburn opens with perhaps one of his most intriguing tracks to date. ‘How Much Is Weed?’ rides across a smooth, velvety beat that introduces the excellently produced, fizzled-out effect of Fike’s voice – echoing the imagery of a “photo-album, but the colour faded from it”. This singular notion is perhaps the pinnacle of the record’s overall message – the idea of a childhood innocence lost to the cruelling gaze of Floridian sun and heat. Yet, Fike’s standout rap and vocals prove that he is a threat like no other amongst indie-pop’s rising stars. He effortlessly croons and spits lyrics with both desperation and pride: “Everybody looking at me like I’m not invested. B*tch, you know how hard I was stressing”.
Other rap standouts include Fike’s recollection of intimate family and childhood moments on the quietly confident, acoustic track ‘Dark’ – “I stood up to a demon, Mama, you should’ve seen it. Remember back when Alex had no front teeth? I do, I remember most of it”. And with it, there is ultimately a breakdown of honesty and vulnerability that enables Sunburn to truly shine as a scorching, self-reflective memoir – “Then after she broke up with me, I became who my Mama hates, I became my dad […] I would lie through my teeth. You remember when Alex had no front teeth?”. Here, and in most of Sunburn, everything is stripped back, peeled from all fake facades. From the production to the lyrics; the guitar to his memories, Fike shines in these moments of dreadful candour and intimacy. This is also evident in the track ‘Pasture Child’, where Fike recounts the innocent backstory of a “half-Dakota, half-Louisiana pastor child” whose “skirts went past her ankles”. This girl, with the phone cord wrapped around her finger, is greeted with Fike’s voice who “[speaks] gently”, most definitely echoing the same honeyed vocals that we are now met with.
It would be difficult to ignore his undeniable sense of charisma and audacious love for poking the musical bear
Aside from Fike’s honesty, however, there are indeed moments of fun and play within Sunburn that speaks to the childlike innocence of his nature. Even if we were to view Fike through that archetypal, bad-boy indie star lens, it would be difficult to ignore his undeniable sense of charisma and audacious love for poking the musical bear, so to speak – even in Zane Lowe’s interview for Apple Music, Fike can’t help taking off his shirt, diving into the Floridian ocean, running across the beach, teasing the cameraman, and asking if they’re going to include a slow-motion shot of him in a Baywatch-esque clip. And they do, because why not? If he’s got the charm, there’s no use in hiding it.
This fun and play is found dotted across Sunburn, but most notably in the tracks ‘Bodies’, ‘Sick’, and ‘Frisky’. In the first, the backing vocal cries of “Hallelujah” praise all of a girl’s past-lovers that came before him, because, essentially, they’ve made her who she is. Whilst certainly a cliché, Fike makes this delightful, with the repeated “It’s okay, baby, we can start fresh today” elevating this gospel track to become an almost hilariously addictive worship tune. When paired with cheeky lyrics like “One time for all of your bodies from college. One more for every boy that came before me”, Fike’s duplicitous charm can only lead him to either a slap on the wrist from his mother or a pat on the back from his mates. And he loves it, as do we.
This is the sort of opening to a song that you restart before the lyrics even kick in
In ‘Sick’, Fike combines fun little voice notes to finish off his lines, quite literally playing with his audience as we are left with unfinished sentences right up until the very end – “Cause you make me (sick). And I make you (sick). And we can’t be (friends). Cause I’m still in (love)”. This touch-and-go tease can only speak to Fike’s desire to take audiences to the edge – what else could bring him more joy, but to mess around with us? Additionally, in the track ‘Frisky’ – a song previously showcased only live that quickly became a fan-favourite, Fike’s energy is certainly infectious. He opens the tune with a country-like, guitar-twang riff, only to explode with a laugh (“Whoa, huh!”) and catchy, head-bop bass. This is the sort of opening to a song that you restart before the lyrics even kick in. But when they do, Fike’s wink-of-an-eye suggestion of “a lil’ bottle for two” and getting “drunk in these fancy places” keeps us there.
However, not all tracks meet the same mark on Sunburn. Where Fike seems to find his direction in a place high above his hometown of Naples, Florida, certain watered-down rock tracks fail to stand out. ‘Think Fast’ featuring Weezer is great – in the second half. Otherwise, our interest peaks at the one catchy hook “I will find out […] Think fast, you only get one try”. Whilst the track certainly flaunts an interesting hybrid of rock and rap that Fike has mastered, it just doesn’t appear to be particularly exciting following up the previously released single ‘Ant Pile’ – a brilliant, nostalgic banger of hands being held in the school playground and first dates. Furthermore, ‘4X4’ is a curious, honest stripped tune with a delightful guitar backing, but for some reason doesn’t create the same spark that similar songs such as ‘Dark’ does.
Overall, Sunburn is an impressive sophomore album that can only take Fike further into the heat of the rising indie-pop scene. He’s got the boyish charm and laid-back attitude of a honey-vocaled rebel who knows he’s smart, and he’s already made the infamously difficult transition from musician to actor. So what’s next after Sunburn? Something brighter and hotter that’ll leave more than just a mark, I’m sure.
Recommended listening: ‘How Much Is Weed?’, ‘Bodies’, ‘Frisky’