Fucked Up


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Looking for Gold (2004), 7.5/10 (EP)
Hidden World (2006), 7/10
The Chemistry Of Common Life (2008), 6.5/10
David Comes to Life (2011), 7/10
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Toronto's Fucked Up revolutionized both the ethos and the aesthetic of hardcore by transforming it into a studio-based art. Their early EPs and singles were compiled on Epics in Minutes (Deranged, 2003). The main exhibit is the frontal attack of Police (Deranged, 2002), Circling The Drain (Deranged, 2002) and Baiting The Public (Deranged, 2003). However, Dance Of Death (Deranged, 2003) expands in both the melodic and the sonic direction, and Generation betrays the influence of the Stooges.

The mini-album Looking for Gold (Hidden World, 2004) introduced a hardcore's equivalent of Phil Spector's massive "wall of sound": painstaikingly studio-constructed songs that stretched to twice or three times the usual duration of a punk rigmarole and relied on thick overdubs to capitalize on Damian Abraham's abrasive roar and the twin-guitar attack led by Mike Haliechuk. The 16-minute Looking for Gold, boasting an anthemic refrain a` la Dead Kennedys to deliver symbolist imagery such as "Our amber paths are etched to globes in code" and metaphysical questions such as "Are you the fire or just another flame?", was constructed out of 19 guitar tracks, replete with a lengthy drum solo and a lengthy whistling solo.

Hidden World (Jade Tree, 2006) was a transitional and confused work with songs that lasted a lot longer than the traditional punk-rock song. The best one, the seven-minute Crusades, managed to pack an anthemic guitar riff, tribal drumming and roaring vocals in a perfectly fused and even sophisticated harmony. They sound like another band when they tackle the turbulent structure of Invisible Leader (peaking with a guitar singalong) or lose control in the noisy and visceral Baiting The Public (a revision of a 2003 single). They effortlessly dish out the demented Ramones-ian missile David Comes To Life, but then sink in the ebullient quicksands of the six-minute Fate Of Fates. They manage to sustain seven minutes of an inebriating rock'n'roll locomotive in Two Snakes, but then senselessly "waste" two great ideas in Hidden World: the insistent guitar maelstrom that fires it up and the crescendo of drumming and strumming that restarts it in the middle. Another breathless progression a` la Ramones propels the six-minute Triumph Of Life, while Jacob's Ladder indulges in the jarring and the discordant, and Vivian Girls closes the album with nine minutes of which the last five are redundant. They can be surgically straightforward or maddeningly messy.

The better produced The Chemistry Of Common Life (Matador, 2008), featuring third guitarist Ben Cook, brought that idea to fruition with a set of even more varied songs and transfigured genre cross-pollinations. The pummeling, intense, overboard sound of Black Albino Bones, Days of Last and Crooked Head represents the energy maximum of the album. The power-ballad No Epiphany (whose backing vocals and guitar swirls are much more psychedelic than punk) is instead typical of how that energy is channeled in anticlimatic directions. Twice Born sounds like the unlikely meeting of Bruce Springsteen and the Sex Pistols. The way the flute solo leads to the guitar explosion in Son the Father is reminiscent of the Who. The influence spreads to the second song, Magic Word, that relies on a "tension and release" strategy, and later in Royal Swan. Golden Seal, the nadir of energy, is everything but a punk song: floating synthesizer drones, drum-less chamber music, repeating dissonant guitar tones... Looking for God is a solo of guitar feedback. The songs are shorter than on the previous album and the hysteria is gone. The seven-minute The Chemistry Of Common Life is the only track that could have been on the previous album (but it would not have been a highlight).

The visceral, intricate, multi-layered but also catchy rock opera David Comes to Life (Matador, 2011) evokes both the Who and Husker Du
The hypnotic instrumental Let Her Rest is misleading. The real impetus comes from the blue-collar anthem Queen Of Hearts, that sounds like Bruce Springsteen fronting the Dead Kennedys until naive female backup vocals reminiscent of the poppy girl-groups of the 1960s intone a demented refrain worthy of the Ramones' Teenage Lobotomy which couldn't offer a more starking contrast with Damian Abraham's lycanthropic growl. A Slanted Tone almost duplicates that feat, alas without the female counterpart, while Ship Of Fools boasts the second best psycho-pop refrain which gets amplified by a rare solo of cosmic guitar over a wall of guitar noise. By comparison, Under My Nose sounds like a repetition of the same idea with just thicker and more static guitar noise. The chromatic interplay of the guitar trio (lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk, second guitarist Josh Zucker and rhythm guitarist Ben Cook) is in fact the main element of their new sound, or at least the one that gives non-trivial meaning to the frantic narrative of Remember My Name and Serve Me Right. The guitars also flood Life In Paper with incendiary raga-like chords in what is possibly the album's most creative trick.
There's, however, another protagonist at work: Jonah Falco's whirlwind of drumming provides the force behind singalongs like Turn The Season and his chaotic noise largely pens the tension of Running On Nothing.
The music slows down at strategic moments. The Other Shoe does little more than repeat the rant of a hoarse shouter and a martial beat. Truth I Know is basically a midtempo power-ballad, and I Was There is basically slow black metal with a zombie wardance beat. And One More Night is an agonizing blues lament buried in a sea of distortion and resurrected by a surreal merry-go-round of voices. By piling up crunchy riffs, soaring hooks and pounding beats, Fucked Up went for sensory overload, trying not to "tell" their story but to shovel it down your throat (or, better, ears).

The female-fronted Bitters, guitarist Ben Cook's side project with vocalist Aerin Fogel, debuted with the EPs Wooden Glove (Captured Tracks, 2009) and Have A Nap Hotel (Sacred Bones, 2010) of unbridled noisy garage-rock. East General (Mexican Summer, 2010) was a mixed bag, exceling mostly at rave-ups like Travelin' Girl and Nails in the Coffin. The double-disc Couple Tracks (2010) collects all the Fucked Up singles.

The highlight of the "Chinese Zodiac" EPs was perhaps Year Of The Ox (Merge), a tribute of sorts to German trance-rock of the 1970s (with Zola Jesus on vocals).

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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