Review Summary: So much for slowing down. The stink of sex is undeniable.
I've never been one for idolatry. The practice brings me down. I used to get all gabbedy-gook slack-jawed about whatever next new shiny piece of s*** was coming out for whatever the latest game system was back in the day. As is often the problem for people with a modicum of imagination, I began getting let down so often and so viciously by my own expectations of what was to come that I dropped competitive thumb-twiddling from my life. Being a horny and world-wise 17-year-old at the time, I took this decision as an Adolescent Life Lesson (tm!) and promptly thought it good to apply it to every aspect of life possible. As I got into music while slogging down the dead-end road that is an American liberal arts degree, the principle was held to with vigor.
The one band that's been able to consistently defy that principle is Future of the Left. Every album that the former-three-piece, now-four-piece put out immediately got me randy like a goat choking down a bottle of Viagra, and with time, they still hung around like obscenely verbose left-wing lobbyists, presenting smart, taut and efficient rock 'n' roll, a fiercely independent mixture of distortion, gnarly riffs, killer band cohesion, and Andrew Falkous' snarling snark. With that in mind, How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident is a bizarre sidestep of an album, undoubtedly excellent, but far and away the most diverse collection of music Falkous and co. have ever put out. With its release, Future of the Left have stepped fully out of the straight-punk shadow of Mclusky and made themselves into a wholly new beast, though not without some less-than-stellar moments.
The album is a far cry from a linear evolution of the band's sound. It's less solid than the muscular, lumbering art-rock of Curses!, not as uniform as the scorching rage and chainsaws-huffing-helium guitars of Travels With Myself And Another, and not as gargantuan as the Broadway-big f*** everything of The Plot Against Common Sense. How To Stop..., by contrast, doesn't try to reach deep down any one particular rabbit hole, but grows wiry tendrils that dip into many, ending up with a sound that vacillates betwixt Modest Mouse honesty, late-Nirvana working-class sarcasm, and The Jesus Lizard-level noise.
It features a love song, incorporates piano and twangy acoustic guitar lines well, and has moments that could be described as beautiful (the end of I Don't Know What You Ketamine) and then terrifyingly claustrophobic(the sadsack chronicle of She Gets Passed Around At Parties). It's even more lyrically unhinged than previous outings, an exhilarating unbuckled rollercoaster ride through Falkous' hilarious, touching, and dadaist worldview (tm"). It takes satirical jabs at the music industry, Christmas presents, cold marriages, people who are certain about life, blanket-blaming the male gaze for relationship problems – at least, I think. And the instrumentation is also top-notch: Falkous's guitar lines have become more complex and multilayered as the song structures give him room to breathe, Jack Egglestone's drums are solid and inventive, Julia Ruzicka's bass has a tone that's always fitting for a song's mood, and Jimmy Watkins' guitar lines and sunny vocal harmonies complement Falkous' newly expanded vocal palette (low-voiced, Nick Cave-ish growls, a quiet XX-esque croon, and straight-faced Neil Gaiman storytelling) incredibly well. Though the overall aggression has been toned down, the band's vitality is kept alive with diversity and smart innovation.
The execution isn't without its flaws. There's some points at which the songs overstay their welcome, like the underdeveloped Something Happened, but eventually the riffs are shifted up and new elements are introduced. The one major chink in the album's armor is the one-shock-pony of Future Child Embarrassment Matrix. Sure, “HER COCK IS SO HARD” is a hell of a line, but it isn't enough to carry the song, and the verse's riff becomes dull before the late-song bridge can bring variety back to the proceedings.
Regardless, this album rips s*** up. It's a testament to the seemingly endless energy this band continues to bring to rock, the vitality and importance of independent bands in the world, and the varied beauty and ridiculousness of the world around us. So treat yourself. Get lost in the Hitchcockian paranoia of How To Spot A Record Company's bassline, pull out the fistpumping for Things To Say To Friendly Policemen, sing along to the catchy-as-STDs choruses of Johnny Borrell Afterlife, Donny of the Decks, and The Real Meaning of Christmas and mope along with the horror-movie creep of the album's slow tracks. You won't regret it.