Fucked Up – Hidden World
Ok, Fuck Your Jetta isn’t so impetuous that it talks about records before it’s even listened to them, but listening to the newest record by Toronto’s Fucked Up has me wanting, nay, needing to sit down at the old typer and get a move on to try and pull some kind of Lester Bangs go-man-go while I feed off the high of this insane rock and roll album on first listen.
You know how your friends don’t understand that Appetite For Destruction is actually the best straight-up rock and roll record of the 80s because they somehow associate Axl and Slash with Brett and Bobbi and Gene and Paul and Jon and Richie? Not that they weren’t part right, since G n’ fuckin’ R is and always was sort of a cartoon show, but there’s just no getting around it – if you know what fucking rock and roll is, dangerous, joyous, dirty, and unapologetic, then you know that Appetite rules, full stop, no smirking and no winking, and if you think I’m wrong, you can fuck off and go listen to some more Black Sabbath or Zeppelin or whatever people who feel rock and roll in their brains and comic book collection instead of their balls and their hearts listen to.
Now imagine trying to explain Fucked Up to them. Because you’re convinced they will like them. You’re convinced that everyone who’s ever bought a record with distorted guitar will get into it. I mean, what you have here is a positively charged, major chord, mid-tempo band that has a lot more in common with the sound of the New Bomb Turks, upbeat Fugazi maybe, possibly Boyracer on a pissed off day. Yet they have the ultra-clean, ultra-compressed, ultra-loud and ultra-everything else production of most modern metal, and a singer who sings like he’s out of one of the modern "hardcore" bands that all the kids love these days. To the punks this is going to sound like hard rock, to the rockers it’s going to sound like metal, to the metalheads it’s going to sound like weirdly chipper emo, and to the emo kids, it’s going to sound like punk. I’m afraid that you won’t get it, and if there’s a record from the last ten years that everyone should get, hell, since the Pixies, it ought to be Hidden World.
The great thing is it’s not for any of those folks – Fucked Up is for you. Blaze of Glory practically rerecords the dramatic part of Won’t Get Fooled Again note for note, all windmilled chord hits while the empty space around it is filled with a bouncy bass line, practically grinning with fury. And then at the end screeches to a halt and finishes with strings that could be on a Tindersticks record; the next tune opens with a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone keyboard/drum machine riff until a starkly joyous major chord melody charges in and says, man, let’s go!
I just don’t even know how to describe it, that it sounds like the best in classic rock played with the volume and fury of hardcore, and before you balk, I know how bad that sounds. It’s more complex than that; this record is so heavily repetitive, both in structure and in the melodies themselves, it could be a Suicide record sometimes. All the songs sound the same, and are unusually long, such that it’s actually a blessing: it’s so cohesive, in and of itself, it plays more like a 70 minute mantra chant than a rock record, and like meditation, you lose yourself in time. And for a rock record of any stripe, that’s weirdly long – only technical metals of the death and Between the Buried and Me varieties, not counting all the flavors of doom, ever reach past 4 minutes. This fucking record has only two of its 13 songs clock under 4 minutes, and 5 are over six minutes long. I can’t think of any rock and roll record worth listening to that’s much more than half the length of this one, unless you count Lift To Experience’s transcendental Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, which in fact may be the best comparison of this record in that they both reach out and want to fearlessly love life with an open heart, and play some songs along the way, but I dare not try and state the case of this band here and now; I promise faithful reader that you will hear from me about them yet.
Did I say that this was a metal record, a rock record, a Suicide record? Hell, it’s so poppy that I’m sure the tough-guy hardcore kids have no idea how to get pissed off to it and get worked up to bust some heads, but the punks who might listen to bands with this kind of sound are more used to a wink and a nod and maybe even a reference that only a college kid would get spat out with a delivery that any mall punk could chuckle at while he shops for a new Emily Strange deck at Hot Topic to pick up betties with. You know, I’ll see your NOFX and raise you a Turbonegro. Yet if you dug MBV’s Loveless, and you were riding your bike past a car with this blasting, you might do an aural double take and wonder what they could be listening to, and how could the people listening to a band that sounds as thick and impenetrable yet immersing as My Bloody Valentine look like those kids from the suburbs who go to shows and leave with a matching hooded sweatshirt, tee shirt, ball cap combo? This is a hardcore record that is positively joyous, but will make the most earnest posis among you blush with its unapologetic positivity, and makes ‘em all want to pound their fist in the air, bang their heads, and tap their toes like it’s a Smokey song.
And I’m not talking about that praise-the-lord or fuck-emo-we’re-smiling-and-going-bowling stuff that was popular "with the kids" a few years ago; we’re certainly not talking blissed-out indiepop, though this is a metal band that put out a 7" of Shop Assistants and Dolly Mixture covers, and the latter are obscure enough that me, your humble know-it-all record nerd never even heard of them, and this band is probably ten years younger than I am, and if they are, they’re way fucking smarter than I was when I was 21. It’s sparkling and inspired by light and truth and the fiercest empathy I’ve ever heard on an LP, and I can’t even understand the damn lyrics yet; my hardcore-to-English babelfish is in the shop, and as a grindcore lover, I know better than to pay attention to what the singer is saying, but I’m certain that this dude has something to say, and I’ll happily hear him out once I get to it with a bike and a pair of headphones.
If there’s only two kinds of music that we ever get worked up enough to write about, there’s the stuff that needs to be described in detail because it’s so odd and unexpected that you might not get past side one track one if you don’t have a little context for where it’s going to go and what it’s going to do – Butch by the Geraldine Fibbers, say, or the Vibracathedral Orchestra if you liked standard indie rock for the former or standard "hippie noise" or just regular noise for the latter. Stuff like that, you just talk about it and are half descriptive, and half poetic, and hope your words are enough to get someone to put on one of those records with an open mind and see the light.
But the other kind, it’s the stuff that actually sounds very familiar, it sounds so much like something else you know, and man, you know what I’m talking about? That kind of thing, articulating it escapes you, because there’s something about this sound, this band, but jeez, I sure don’t want to be the one who got you to listen to Phoenix’s It’s Never Been Like That because I convinced you it sounded like the first Strokes album, nor do I want to be the one who got you to listen to the first Strokes record because I couldn’t say anything better than that there was some Marquee Moon in there, however tenuous. It’s very rare that a record grabs you by the ears though, and then gives you a hug, and certainly not something this aggressive.
When you hear it though, you just know. And that’s from someone who knows the difference between getting intoxicated on a melody for a couple of days or weeks, or when it’s a balm to soothe or blister something festering, just a little passing music to soothe the savage beast. No, it’s usually the case when you like a record right off the bat that you’re probably going to get tired of it after a couple dozen listens at most. But there’s also another kind of record, a very rare one, that from the first chords of the first song, you know it’s going to be a keeper for the long haul, you’re going to be pulling this one out ten years from now, and not even dusting it off, because you take it out often enough that it can’t even be still long enough to catch a mote.
No, this inexplicably familiar yet incredibly resonant je ne sais quoi is the stuff of the best records if you’re not one for genre records. You know, if you’re into Nasum, you say "Swedish" and "grindcore" and you’re going to be happy, from Skitsystem to Sewn Shut to Regurgitate to Gadget, and that’s like, you know, saying the Swedish grindcore equivalents of Snapcase, Scum-era Napalm Death, the band that inspired insipid and sophomoric crap like Gut and XXX Maniak, and the grind equivalent of Metal Church or Dream Theater. Be that as it may, it’s still going to be hugely melodic, well-produced, expertly played grind that you will check out just knowing that, and you will dig it, because, well, it sounds like Nasum.
But outside of genres in that sense, just why would you pick up a record because it sounded like X? I mean a) whoever said that is probably wrong, it’s a sloppy shorthand that the reviewer or doofster overheard at a show doesn’t even know she’s using, because Spin and the Village Voice and Trouser Press and NME taught people my age that it’s perfectly ok to believe that "Kathleen Hanna pistol-whipping The Melvins in bathroom at a Slits gig" is a satisfactory description of a Babes in Toyland record and b) if you want a record that sounds like X, you’re probably not reading this review, you’re going to see the video and download it or not download it and play it in your car for a couple of weeks while you drive to the mall or whatever you do, and likely if you’re in the b) category, you can’t even know about a) anyway, and even if you did, you wouldn’t care.
So I’m not allowed to say that Fucked Up maybe kinda sorta sounds like the second coming of the New Bomb Turks, with a MacBook and a totally sweet studio suite instead of a 4-track, a two four of whatever was cheapest and some guy’s apartment after the hardware store below closes for the night. It’s so much more than that, and yet even if I try and describe it’s most obvious and signature elements, what does that say? Major chords and upbeat progressions that recall the best of The Who and Therapy? Midtempo in much the same way that anyone from Husker Du to Mastodon is? Shouted hardcore vocals without either the faux he-man Madball shit or the whiny woe-is-me Orchid shit, a rage that believes in the good in everyone so hard it would make a gospel singer go damn, now those boys are into it.
That’s just too easy. Oh-it’s-kinda-like-non-hair-band-80s-hard-rock-(think-The-Four-Horsemen)-with-90s-melodic-punk-flavor-(Millencolin-maybe)-and-sorta-hardcore? It’s not enough. This band is passionate, and they soar with chords that could be straight from the rocking part of Come Sail Away, except without the pomposity or schmaltz, and yet in the same tune, they are as fiercely punk (meaning pissed off, self-righteous, and more importantly, right) as the NOFX doing Perfect Government, and still have a sound that could turn the head of a Nugent or a Husker or a Mars Volta fan if it were blasting in a Camaro with a T-top. At least if we were writing about the mighty and elusive Drive Like Jehu we’d be allowed to use the F-word (Fugazi that is) and not get sent to the corner to wear the dunce cap for the rest of the period; even by Yank Crime, Fugazi had inspired a whole generation of bands to be punk in a way that simple anger and angularity couldn’t describe without saying Fugazi, and it sounded like Fugazi in some way, so that was ok.
This isn’t like that. I mean, really, I’m picturing how great this will sound in my brother’s car with his 300W speakers cranked and how amazed we will be that he thinks I like a band that could tour with Snapcase and he’s willing to listen to a band that has more in common with The Hold Steady sound wise than they do with Unearth. Fucking Manqueller Man starts off so damn happy that I don’t even know what to do with it but run out and buy flowers for a stranger and go volunteer at the old folk’s home to read them their favorite books. And yet, not only is it immediately familiar, it’s a riff that’s identical in many songs, just like every single band has a song that uses what would be in barre chords 3rd fret -> 7th fret -> 8th fret, with variations of sometimes going to the 10th after that, or jumping from the 7th to the 10th, or going down the neck instead of up it.
The rub is that in the best possible way, you’ve heard this, and in most familiar way, you’ve never heard anything like this. In a town that had a decent rock radio station, this tune could be up there with the top songs of the week, back to back with the latest from Creed or Nickelback or whatever the latest incarnation of that kind of junk is, sandwiched between Black Hole Sun-era Soundgarden and Cheap Trick and you’d go, "Yeah!" and turn it up and tap your fingers on the door with your left elbow leaning on the open window of your 1990 Cavalier. And the poor kids that learn to like My Chemical Romance and Marilyn Manson because they saw Vito’s kid in eye makeup and a spiked leather collar on the Sopranos last week, they’ll get it too. Your old school punk buddy who bought Pistols records when the band was still around and now only listens to free jazz will perk up her ear and go, "hmmm" and you indie rockers who pretend to get into Four Tet, but have a secret stash of Aisler’s Set records you put on when you’re doing the dishes, you will want to glue your hands to your sides and pogo. And this is from a band with a whispered and twice repeated, "broken down and beaten down, another day we’ll surely rise", and before you can roll your eyes and start typing "hardcore cliché", and trying to think of something nasty to say about Brampton or Etobicoke or wherever they’re from, though you haven’t yet understood a single shouted word through the whole first verse, you can’t miss that the dude is screaming at the chorus, "the triumph of life."
And it’s no fucking joke! Even better, you believe it. Because it’s true, and they are not at all hesitant in making their joyful noise unto the lord, that just happens to have the volume and snarl of the best of metal and the hooks of every would-be Beatles on the Yellow Pills compilations of power pop unknowns.
It’s the real fucking deal folks. It’s the record that captivates you until the last of the reverb on the last tune fades out and them makes you get up and walk around the room going damn, damn, DAMN! I have no other way to tell you. My only recommendation in particular is that if you’re going to check this out, listen to the whole album. I can hardly say I’d promise you the same if I was reading your blog, but when I first heard of these guys in an Exclaim review, I checked out a tune on their label’s site, and while it definitely got my attention, I couldn’t have possibly foreseen the force of this record from a single tune. This is a band that, at least by the torrents I started grabbing a couple songs in anticipating needing more before I’d even heard the whole LP, put out nothing but singles for years as if they were protesting the idea of a full-length album. Then they decided to make an LP, and the way that people who will espouse sitting and listening to a long-player all the way through as the only way to experience music, this record is definitely an LP and not a collection of songs. Now in the middle of my third straight listening of a fucking 70 minute record, I can not recommend this record enough. I promise I will report later and see if the wedding was hasty, but I’m confident, even hopeful that this record will continue to open up to me and me to it.
Whatever you do, seek the Hidden World; get Fucked Up.