Monday, October 27, 2008

Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (****)



Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(October 26 - November 1, 2008)

The one minute flute introduction that opens "Son the Father" should be evidence enough that Fucked Up's epic sophomore album The Chemistry of Common Life is no ordinary hardcore album. If by some chance that didn't convince you though, then maybe the female backing vocals from the same song will; or maybe the bongo-like percussion on following track "Magic Word" or the french horn and moog synth on instrumental interlude "Golden Seal" will help illuminate the fact that Fucked Up are no ordinary hardcore band. Things continue in much the same, unpredictable way throughout The Chemistry of Common Life, a record that takes the classic, pummeling sound of early 80s hardcore and applies it to much different ends, while at the same time staying frighteningly close to a long-abandon sound. Fucked Up are like a hardcore band that have studied their Stockhausen, and the resulting album is unsurprisingly a statement-of-purpose of the grandest and most ambitious kind.

When we last saw Fucked Up, they were turning in an 18 minute version of their "Year of the Pig" single (from one of their vast array of scarce 7" singles - now available via Matador), and while Chemistry doesn't hold anything quite so cathedral-sized, nearly every song does manage to stretch well past the 5 minute mark. This isn't your Minor Threat-like 45 second rape-and-pillage that is so closely associated with 80s hardcore, but something altogether bolder and more aspiring. The dense, more cacophonous tracks are sequenced up front, and the first half of the record can at times become a nearly overwhelming listening experience taken in one sitting. "Golden Seal" certainly attempts to lighten the mood, but it's just a brief respite from the onslaught, which resurrects itself promptly for the three-song barrage of "Days of Last", "Crooked Head" and "No Epiphany". The latter two songs loosen up the strangle hold Fucked Up apply for the record's opening quarter and lend a helpful hint as to what is in store for listeners on side 2.

Chemistry's second half begins with arguably the record's three best songs, the unhinged "Black Albino Bones", the beefed-up "Royal Swan", and the fist-pumpingly direct "Twice Born", which stands out immediately as Fucked Up's most welcoming and all-encompassing song (choice lyric: "Hands up if you think you're the only one who's ever been denied!"). The sound of the band is opened up considerably on these tracks, as they are easily the most dynamic on the record. Even vocalist Pink Eyes (other band members include 10,000 Marbles and Mustard Gas) shows some range beyond his Henry Rollins-derived growl, presenting call-to-arms hooks and head banging barks in equal measure to go along with the bevy of back-up singers scattered throughout the record. Ex-Death from Above 1979 vocalist Sebastian Grangier shows up to send "Twice Born" into the stratosphere, while all three Vivian Girls are cooing somewhere behind "Crooked Head" and it's stop-start wall-of-noise.

Few albums attempt anything as epic and zealous as Fucked Up do here, let alone a Canadian hardcore band that has a proclivity for covering everyone from the Ramones to Justice. The Chemistry of Coming Life may be one of the most smothering and claustrophobic of records you'll hear all year, but it is also very likely to be one of the best heavy records you've heard in ages. Taken in chunks, this pummeling 60 minute record can easily reveal nuance and an attention to detail that is almost unheard of in modern post-hardcore, a genre that has become an inbred joke of a scene and one which Fucked Up have emphatically (and thankfully) beaten into submission with this stellar piece of unrelenting hardcore punk rock.

Highlights: "Son the Father", "Black Albino Bones", "Crooked Head" "Twice Born"


"Twice Born"

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