Review Summary: Fucked Up finally uses dynamics in a full length. Maybe too much of it...
It shouldn’t really be a surprise when I say that ***ed Up’s latest full length is the sextet’s weirdest record to date: the Canadian outfit has been pushing the boundaries of hardcore and punk music for the better part of twenty years, and things were unlikely to change now.
With their album ‘The Chemistry of Common Life’ they showed that they wanted to shake things up by opening their post-hardcore record with one minute of transverse flutes, and by bringing the average track length close to five minutes, although ***ed Up was hardly new to long running times, having released the 18 minute long behemoth ‘Year of the Pig’ just one year before. But the sun really started to shine in 2011, when the band released ‘David Comes to Live’, which met with wide critical acclaim. Clocking at over 70 minutes, DCtL describes the life of David, a recurrent character in ***ed Up’s discography, and his struggles working in a light bulb factory, a story that sounds like it came out of a French book written in the nineteenth century (Germinal by Émile Zola). The album was widely seen as the millenials’ Zen Arcade, but unlike Hüsker Dü’s magnus opus, it was criticized for its lack of dynamics.
On ‘Dose Your Dreams’, ***ed Up addresses this criticism and seasons its music with new influences and nuances, even walking a few steps too many in the opposite direction, but first things first. It’s a concept album, and the story picks up just where DCtL left off: after leaving the light bulb factory, David finds a normal desk job he’s unsatisfied with. He then gets fired and meets some sort of (self-proclaimed) magician/wizard, who gives him drugs. This happens in the first four or five songs, so... What happens next？ Well, then we’re on our own: due to the drugs that David has taken, the plot turns murky and pretty much as consistent as the average Mars Volta concept album. Whether or not this is a bad thing depends on you, it wasn’t a deal breaker for me, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying the record. Even with its hallucinogenic nature, much of its sparse storytelling can be connected with the feeling of unfitness in the modern world, which has always been a prominent topic within ***ed Up’s discography. From this perspective, this album further solidifies the band’s identity by stressing the question they’ve been asking for more than a decade: How can we express our personality in a world focused on production, making money and leading ordinary lives？
FU announcing a new full length is always an emotional roller coaster for me: on one side I’m excited to listen to it, but on the other one this means that we’re not getting another entry in the Zodiac series for quite some time, which I’m a massive fan of (I shamelessly admit that Year of the Pig is my favorite song ever). I started listening to this record thinking that I was going to get something more conventional than I wanted. Needless to say, I was wrong. After the first couple of minutes, the album starts off as you would expect a ***ed Up album to start, with lead singer Daniel Abraham screaming and regurgitating discomfort. In the past, Abraham’s abrasive singing style has been both FU’s best thing and biggest drawback, making their music distinctive but limiting their expressive potential at the same time, but things took another turn this time. Abraham sings much less, and the vocal duties are often overtaken by guitarist Mike Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco, whose clean singings bring an unexpected post-punk/new wave-ish vibe to the songs, and many guest singers (mostly clean female voices, but J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. is in here as well). Surprisingly enough, Abraham himself brings some vocal variation too: in ‘Normal People’, he screams at a lower volume, and in ‘I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore’ there’s a vague hint of melody in his grunting. Psychedelia also plays a bigger role now, many songs feature sax solos, synths and choirs and exotic ideas in general (the title track is basically a funk song), and all of this works very well. Interludes are added to the setlist, mostly in the second half of the album, and they are much needed breaths of fresh air.
Not all the innovation works well though. ‘Mechanical Bull’ is a saturated techno track with a distorted rapping on top which sounds like it came from a cheap Casio keyboard, and the following ‘Accelerate’ is equally distorted, and features some very weird reversed cymbals that are repeated throughout the redundant, annoying five minutes of its length. These two tracks are the worst ten minutes in ***ed Up’s discography (a YouTube comment said it better than I could ever do: "even acid won't make this music interesting"), and considering that the record lasts 83 minutes, I can’t help but feel that it would have been better if they were simply cut off. Speaking of runtime, 83 minutes is just too much! I can’t for the life of me sit through this entire record without checking my watch every ten minutes, there simply aren’t enough ideas to justify it. Intros last too long, outros last too long, at the end of the record you feel like a fifth of it were interludes. I like good intros and outros as much as the next guy, but this is too much, the album could have lasted little more than one hour, and it would have been just as effective if not more.
To wrap it up, ***ed Up could have chosen the easy way, and give us the ambitious-indie-hardcore record most fans were waiting for, but they decided to take another road, and it paid off. The album works, there are many good ideas, and most of the genre blending creates an interesting and cohesive body of work, despite a cryptic storytelling that could move some people away. Some pointless experimentation and its unjustified humongous duration keep the album from being excellent, but it’s still a very enjoyable listen.