Much as I like a fair bit of hardcore, there’s a slightly dim earnestness surrounding some contemporary bands on the scene (like the musically quite interesting Gallows, I suppose) that can sometimes be irritating. Obviously I can sympathise with the ideology, but I guess I’ve reached a point in life where I don’t need to be lectured on the multifarious iniquities of the music business - or the iniquities of life, come to that - in such artless terms.
Much as I like a fair bit of hardcore, there’s a slightly dim earnestness surrounding some contemporary bands on the scene (like the musically quite interesting Gallows, I suppose) that can sometimes be irritating. Obviously I can sympathise with the ideology, but I guess I’ve reached a point in life where I don’t need to be lectured on the multifarious iniquities of the music business – or the iniquities of life, come to that – in such artless terms.
Fucked Up, though, are a grand exception. Their fiercely underground stance (though they have just signed to Matador) never seems quite so sanctimonious and rote as others, and they seem genuinely, esoterically smart – not just anxious to prove that, contrary to crude punk stereotypes, they’ve read a book or two.
They’re also, I think, the first hardcore band I’ve come across in a long time – since the ‘90s heyday of post-hardcore, maybe (though my knowledge of this stuff is sketchy at best, to be honest), who really stretch the music. Notoriously, their “Year Of The Pig” single from last year was an 18-minute, semi-motorik chunder that somehow managed to sustain the fireball indignation of a sub-two minute SST single from the ‘80s.
Their last album, 2006’s “Hidden World”, was excellent too; a cannily ambitious expansion of the hardcore aesthetic, with strings from Final Fantasy/Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett and some dynamic gear-shifts that could usefully be described as progressive.
“The Chemistry Of Common Life” is in much the same vein, and I’m pleased to say it’s terrific. Sometimes, to be honest, that progressive dimension basically amounts to slow builds for intros – as on the raging, possibly Drive Like Jehu-like “Crooked Head”, or the distant flute which introduces “Son The Father” and the album itself. But “Son The Father” also has a melodiously screaming woman duetting with frontman Pink Eyes, and pummelling wave after wave of Guitar Army noise that is genuinely exhilarating.
As “The Chemistry Of Common Life” piles on, these become satisfyingly familiar tricks. The grandiose “No Epiphany” is the culmination of all this, with allegedly 18 guitars, massed organs and female backing vocals, a reversed fuzz intro and a general haywire grandeur that reminds me how oddly close My Bloody Valentine could be to a hardcore band, especially live. My colleagues, I should note in passing, say this one’s like The Dandy Warhols.
According to the trusty press release, guest singers on the album include Katie Stelmanis (from Fucked Up’s hometown of Toronto) and the Vivian Girls (who are getting a bit of blog heat at the moment, but who sound perilously like The Shop Assistants to me). It doesn’t, however, reveal which one of these vocalists shares the honours on “Royal Swan”, and who has a grand guignol diva tone which reminds me variously of Siouxsie or PJ Harvey.
There are a couple of instrumental interludes that could’ve slid off Mogwai’s “Come On Die Young”. But mostly, amongst all the pomp and self-conscious scope, it’s the pumping, anthemic songs that stick with you: “Days Of Last”, “Twice Born”, the title track itself, that all remind a hardcore dilettante like me of some monstrous dream hybrid between “Damaged”-era Black Flag and Husker Du circa “New Day Rising”. I’m sure some of you can come up with more apposite reference points, mind. . .