Review Summary: Fucked Up do Frances the Mute.F
ucked Up apparently have decided to stop being just that. Perhaps that’s too harsh, but fortunately it would seem the band has made it through their awkward growing pains. Between releasing the altogether too amazing Hidden World
, getting moshing banned from Canadian MTV Live, and winning a Polaris Music Prize in 2009 for their second LP The Chemistry of Common Life
, the band probably would’ve done well to pick up some new life lessons. You know. Get their ducks in a row. I mean, have you read Nick Greer’s review of the aforementioned award winner? That shi
t is scathing.
Most of the critical acclaim the group garners stems from their uniquely descriptive song-writing style forging the band’s own beliefs and oftentimes unique views in a slowly evolving form of douchey prog wankery. The catch was that you were still listening to an album that, at it’s barest bones, was still a hardcore album. There is perhaps no better example of this then the “Zodiac” series of 12” EPs introduced in 2006. Named after their corresponding year of the Chinese Zodiac, Dog, Pig,
are by far the most fluff-filled targets F’d Up’s detractors could take aim at. You would probably even be hard pressed to find anyone willing to sit through either side of these releases for their entirety, save perhaps the band’s most die-hard fans. They lacked the accessibility needed to make a prog album work.
Enter 2010. Perhaps all they needed was a new decade. I have absolutely no idea if that has any astrological significance whatsoever, but with it comes Year of the Ox
, F’d Up’s most focused and thoroughly engrossing experience since Hidden World
. What gives this latest EP the mojo it’s older siblings couldn’t quite grasp is the same thing F’d Up is known for: relatively minimalist three chord hardcore, with a twist. It’s just this time “twist” actually means “proggy folk-punk indie pop post-rock meltdown.” It favorably draws comparison to Frances the Mute
otherwise known as the Mars Volta’s “proggy Latin jazz salsa post-punk freakout,” albeit in a stripped down fashion. Herein lies the much needed accessibility the Zodiac’s were missing, thankfully without abyssal drones of absolute nothingness.
Clocking in at about 13 minutes, the title track begins deceptively staid. However, Ox
quickly establishes it’s roots behind the guttural growls of Damian “Pink Eye” Abraham, whose delivery keeps the listener grounded in the album’s punk fundamentals. Even when “Year of the Ox” starts to come together about halfway through in a startlingly powerful torrent of strings and screams, one that is easily capable of making both toes tap and hair stand up. He’s making it clear there’s no nancy-boy stuff to be found on this record. It’s around here that the album gives it’s first real taste of the band’s sonic intent, without veering off into “what the hell” territory, as Abraham comes back at seemingly the perfect time, rock riffs and Nika Rosa Danilova’s (mastermind of Zola Jesus) fantastic trill in tow.
In terms of where everything seems to be going, “Solomon’s Song” is truly F’d Up’s final destination. The song’s well-advised trumpet/saxophone intro gives way to a brighter sound with lyrics centralized thematically around family and the ironies of the bonds we forge with loved ones, among others. This is where F’d Up seemingly make their stand to push the envelop of just what genre of music they belong in. Like “Year of the Ox,” the song is split almost in two, the first part sounding almost like a beautifully bastardized Minutemen/Husker Du combination. The second could most easily be described as “Miranda Cassandra: This Ghost Just Isn’t Gemini,” and is every bit as enjoyable as that not-so-beautifully bastardized combination wouldn't be. Transitioning on a dime after a fully badass outburst of bass, “Solomon’s Song” becomes a synth, China, and brass breakdown truly worthy of the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. This leads to Ox
’s biggest pitfall: nothing. After the devolution into little more than a post-jazz fusion soundscape, the song just ends. No final blast. No knockout blow. It’s actually kind of f
Strangely-absent-testicles ending aside, what F’d Up have managed to do here is complete their stride. They’ve finally managed to mesh whatever the hell they’ve been trying to do with what’s worked for progressive music for decades now, and the result is truly spectacular. It may not change the minds of the people who will simply hear this and roll their eyes at it’s uppity wankery. Fans of that sort of thing, however, will find that this is a work of inviting ambition from artists who are truly at the top of their game. Even though it may be a game played by F
ucked Up’s own rules Year of the Ox
is one of the strongest pieces on any board in 2010.