Connect with us

Music

Review: Fucked Up, David Comes to Life

One gets the sense that David Comes to Life is a rite of passage for Fucked Up more than any kind of masterwork.

4.0

Published

on

Fucked Up, David Comes to Life

No matter how badly I wanted to get down with what was evidently the most ambitious hardcore LP since the Fugazi frontmen laid their Gibsons to rest and faded into side-project retirement, my admiration for Fucked Up’s 2008 breakthrough, The Chemistry of Common Life, remained academic. The album’s triumphant pop-hardcore single, “Black Albino Bones,” won me over with its mixture of surging hooks and bone-snapping guitar crunch, and the bracing acid-rock opener, “Son the Father,” was also pretty hard to deny. Clearly these pissed-off Cancuks had skill, but there was an awful lot of material that I found too tedious, too difficult, or just too noisy to engage with. The way the band distended chunky punk-rock tunes over six- and seven-minute stretches and packed the resulting space with piccolos, female vocals, synths, and in most instances, something in the neighborhood of 70 or 80 guitar tracks, often resulted in overwhelmingly dense compositions that grew more familiar, but no more palatable, with multiple listens.

I felt defeated by the album, but even so, I couldn’t help but nod as I read the glowing reviews. With indie rock dominated by twee and baroque stylings (the big lo-fi revival was still a year off) and punk shunted off to the Hot Topic/Warped Tour ghetto, Fucked Up seemed like perfect ambassadors, bringing something visceral to rock and something cerebral to punk, and thereby helping to fill the void left by the mid-decade dissolution of Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney, and the Blood Brothers.

I suppose there’s no telling whether or not that’s a mantle the six members of Fucked Up are interested in, but either way, David Comes to Life might just win it for them. The album’s early singles—particularly “The Other Shoe,” with its uncharacteristically catchy chorus, and “Queen of Hearts,” which uses Pink Eyes’ scorching vocals to anthemic, even uplifting, effect—suggested that Fucked Up was moving toward accessibility. Additionally, the heavily advertised “rock opera” format seemed like a promise to keep Floydian flights of psychedelic fancy in check while upping the number of hooks and refrains.

Now finished and ready to hear, David Comes to Life is a powerful showcase for Fucked Up’s surprisingly sophisticated pop sensibility, which is not to suggest that it’s in any way a pop album. I have no doubt that the album will win Fucked Up a broader fanbase, but for many listeners, Pink Eyes’ eye-popping screams and the band’s unrelenting guitar assault will be immediate turnoffs. David Comes to Life also intimidates by sheer volume of material: Almost two hours of hardcore is a lot for one sitting.

What makes the album so much more immediately gratifying than its predecessors, then, is Fucked Up’s newfound willingness to graft their ear-splitting sound to conventional pop and rock song structures, with most of the tracks on the album delivering big payoffs either by means of a torrential breakdown, as in the climax of “One More Night,” or a satisfying vocal melody. All good news to a listener like me, though I suppose longtime Fucked Up fans will worry that their beloved barbarians have gone too far in civilizing themselves. It’s not an unfounded fear, but David Comes to Life contains plenty of evidence that Fucked Up is still one of the strangest and most inventive guitar rock bands on the planet.

Mike Haliechuk, who performs with the band as “10,000 Marbles,” is a genius when it comes to eliciting awesome sounds from his fretboard, and songs like “Life in Paper,” “Ship of Fools,” and “The Recursive Girl” put his delightfully skewed vision of rock history on display, locating points of intersection between crunchy Pete Townshend riffs, atonal Moore/Ranaldo outbursts, and countless other styles pulled from the guitar greats of shoegaze, hardcore, and metal. But where The Chemistry of Common Life too frequently indulged the assumption that badass guitar licks are endlessly interesting in their own right, here the band limits the number of ideas crammed into any given song and, more importantly, makes sure that the songs themselves have some kind of discernible progression. The result is a weird and confrontational band playing more joyfully and purposively than ever before.

In that respect, Fucked Up remains true to their punk roots, where the sense that the band played with conviction mattered every bit as much as the material they chose to perform. But try as Fucked Up might to imbue every one of their 18 tracks with urgency, David Comes to Life isn’t always convincing—and wherever its sense of purpose strains, it can be every bit as exhausting as the band’s more abrasive early work. As with any album of this length, repetition becomes a major issue by the time it rolls around to its finale. And while there’s certainly some thematic and narrative arc to the album, too much of it seems concerned with alternating garden-variety disaffection with sudden moments of catharsis. Musically, the album couldn’t be further removed from Green Day’s blockbuster American Idiot, but the two punk operas explore similar lyrical themes: Modern life is disheartening and lonely, and in that context, romantic love is a powerful but perhaps illusory source of comfort. There’s also a political element to the story, though as with Green Day and most other punk acts, the message doesn’t seem to develop much beyond a romanticization of dramatic acts of protest (see also: Lou Reed’s Berlin, David Bowie’s Heroes). It’s not that I came to David Comes to Life expecting modern literature, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some departure from the overworked tropes of romantic rock-n’-roll lore over the course of an album as sprawling and wordy as this one. Fucked Up’s protagonist is shocked and heartbroken when his lover bites the dust in the first act, but I doubt many listeners will feel that way.

One gets the sense, both when the album tears along at full throttle and when it slides into the perfunctory or the half-assed, that David Comes to Life is a rite of passage for Fucked Up more than any kind of masterwork. Big-time rock bands, the kind that are so central to the mythology of Woodstock, Rolling Stone, and the early hardcore scene, are supposed to tell stories and they’re supposed to comment on the issues of their day. It’s anyone’s guess if Fucked Up has the ambition to fill that kind of role, or if they just decided to try it on for one album; up to this point, their career has been one defied expectation after another. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting future to imagine for the band. They’re a large Canadian rock group that plays densely composed and anthemic rock music, tackles political and existential themes with precious little subtlety, and clings to the now-anachronistic model of the conceptually unified rock LP. But they prefer walls of guitar to strings and keys and would rather bellow obscenities than write melancholy poetry. Could Fucked Up be evolving into a bizarro-world Arcade Fire?

Label: Matador Release Date: June 7, 2011 Buy: Amazon

Advertisement
Comments

Music

Review: Yola’s Walk Through Fire Feels Like a Musical Time Capsule

The British soul singer’s debut seems to have emerged from a time capsule circa 1969.

3.5

Published

on

Walk Through Fire
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen/Nonesuch

Everything about Yola’s debut, Walk Through Fire, seems to have emerged from a time capsule circa 1969—from the album cover, with its muted color palette and chunky vintage fonts, to the musical arrangements, which mix baroque-pop signifiers like glockenspiel and pizzicato strings with more timeless organ and pedal steel. The album’s session musicians are of a similar vintage: Drummer Gene Chrisman and pianist Bobby Wood are both veterans of the house band from American Sound Studio in Memphis, ground zero for Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis.

It’s tempting to ascribe this studious retro sensibility to producer Dan Auerbach, whose 2017 solo album, Waiting on a Song, treaded similar territory with some of the same musicians. But Yola, whose colorful backstory includes a brief stint with trip-hoppers Massive Attack, has a voice that lends itself to the analogue treatment: rich and mellifluous, adept at both caressing the melodies of a lilting ballad like “Shady Grove” and blowing the roof off of a belter like “Lonely the Night.” The British singer simply sounds like the product of another era, closer in spirit to the likes of Mavis Staples than to 21st-century R&B stylists like SZA.

If Through the Fire sounds like it’s from 1969, that’s because the late ‘60s were the golden era of country-soul, when a small but significant group of artists, songwriters, and producers were blurring the boundaries between working-class black and white roots music. Yola, who’s cited Dolly Parton as a crucial influence, is right at home in this space, sounding as natural singing atop the fiddles and pedal steel of lead single “Ride Out in the Country” as she does over the organ and horn section of “Still Gone.” The ease with which Yola, Auerbach, and their collaborators blend these genres is a powerful reminder of their shared roots—particularly at a time when musical styles feel at once more amorphous and more rigidly segregated than ever.

While Through the Fire’s facsimile of ‘60s country-soul is uncanny, the sturdiness of its songcraft is even more impressive. Yola and Auerbach composed the majority of the album with seasoned songwriters—most notably Dan Penn, who as the co-writer of standards like “The Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” played no small role in the creation of country-soul as a genre. None of the songs on Through the Fire are of quite that caliber, and some feel like they’re trying too hard to be: The subject matter of “Ride Out in the Country” is a bit too bucolically on the nose, while a few stray lyrical references to “across the great divide” and “love [is] a losing game” come across as distracting tips of the hat to more canonical—and, frankly, better—songs. But on tracks like “Keep Me Here” and “It Ain’t Easier,” Yola seems capable of not only expertly mimicking the sounds of the past, but also creating something that will itself stand the test of time.

Label: Easy Eye Sound/Nonesuch Release Date: February 22, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading

Music

Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Signs Points to Better Times Ahead

The band’s raw, crowd-pleasing blues-rock remains as rousing as ever on Signs.

3.5

Published

on

Signs
Photo: Shore Fire Media

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s raw brand of blues-rock is a thrilling resurrection of bygone genres endemic to the southeastern United States, and they play with the freewheeling improvisatory energy of hallowed country-rock bands like the Allman Brothers, Little Feat, and Black Oak Arkansas. The group’s sound hasn’t noticeably evolved since their 2011 debut, Revelator, but their craft—particularly the electrifying, full-throated howl of singer Susan Tedeschi—remains as rousing as ever on their fourth album, Signs.

Lead single “Hard Case” fuses Americana, Memphis soul, and New Orleans swamp funk to tell the story of lovers who can’t quit each other. Tedeschi’s wails seamlessly intertwine with Matt Mattison’s gruff warble. “You’re a hard case to refuse,” Tedeschi sings, her voice tinged with both overwhelming desire and a creeping sense of self-doubt. Like most Tedeschi Trucks songs, “Hard Case” attempts to capture the blistering kinetic energy of the band’s live performances, and it mostly succeeds: The drums pummel, the solos meander, and the guitars, expertly played by Tedeschi’s husband, Derek Trucks, unexpectedly leap forward.

“Hard Case” is the closest Signs comes to matching the unbridled dynamism of “Part of Me,” a soaring standout from 2013’s Made Up My Mind. Yet the album also contains a handful of irrepressible trad-rock jams that allow Tedeschi’s vocals to take center stage, as on the Motown-inspired “I’m Gonna Be There” and “They Don’t Shine.” On “Walk Through This Life,” her voice veers from exuberant and unrestrained to subtle and declarative, yet it never loses its luster, evoking, at turns, that of Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, and Gladys Knight.

Many Americana outfits have become sociopolitical observers in the Trump era, and Tedeschi Trucks Band is no different. “Signs, Hard Times” is a blue-eyed soul rave-up that calls on bystanders to get off the sidelines in a time when passivity amounts to complicity. “No more fooling around,” Tedeschi shouts, urging us to take action before it’s too late. Yet, at times, their activist message comes off as stilted. “Shame, there’s poison in the well/Shame, you know we can’t un-ring the bell,” Tedeschi proclaims on “Shame.” It’s a well-intentioned but ultimately shallow truism—a lyric that states the obvious without offering any solutions.

At their best, the songs on Signs bristle with a kind of wide-eyed optimism. On “Still Your Mind,” Tedeschi seems to sum up the album’s mission: “You’re not alone/So many people feel that low/But I’ll help you grow.” While not without its flaws, Signs heals in this way. It’s often so joyous and spirited that, for a moment, it’s easy to envision better times ahead.

Label: Fantasy Release Date: February 15, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading

Music

Review: Ariana Grande Embraces Her Flaws on Thank U, Next

The pop princess comes off as a decidedly unsympathetic character throughout her fifth album.

3.5

Published

on

Thank U, Next
Photo: Republic Records

Ariana Grande doesn’t care if you like her. The pop princess comes off as a decidedly unsympathetic character throughout her fifth album, Thank U, Next. She fantasizes about her ex while her lover sleeps beside her on “Ghostin,” she picks fights with him for the make-up sex on “Make Up,” and she glibly coaxes a guy into dumping his girlfriend just for kicks on the plainly titled “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.”

As Grande recently proclaimed on Twitter, “Life is full trash,” and it’s this willingness to reveal herself warts and all that makes it easy to forgive her various indiscretions. She isn’t afraid to admit that she’s “Needy” and—on the very next track—that she simultaneously requires her personal space. “Been through some bad shit, I should be a sad bitch/Who woulda thought it’d turn me to a savage?” she declares on “7 Rings,” which finds the singer boasting of her financial prowess in the key of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things.”

Today’s pop stars typically rely on rappers to deliver the kind of braggadocious verses that would otherwise dirty up their squeaky-clean personas, but Grande spits her own rhymes throughout Thank U, Next, and they’re so slick that Princess Nokia and Soulja Boy have both accused her of biting their flows. There are no guest rappers on this decidedly lean follow-up to last year’s Sweetener, and while one might expect it to be filled with at least a few stale leftovers from that album, the songs here rarely sound like sloppy seconds.

Thank U, Next is easily Grande’s most sonically consistent effort to date, even if that means some of the album’s sleek R&B tracks tend to blur together. Aside from a wealth of trap beats and finger snaps, the album’s most notable characteristic is the recurring use of orchestral flourishes. The opening track, “Imagine,” is a dreamy midtempo ballad, with Grande pining for an Instagram-perfect romance that comprises sharing sexy baths and pad thai. The song takes a sudden turn in its final third, as it builds to a hypnotic climax filled with cinematic swells and Grande’s euphoric, Minnie Ripperton-esque whistle notes.

That same tactic makes slightly less thematic sense on the reggae-inflected “Bad Idea,” on which Grande espouses the temporarily amnesiac virtues of casual sex. Elsewhere, the use of a sample by the late soul singer Wendy Rene on “Fake Smile” initially smacks of misappropriation, followed as it is by seemingly mindless lines like “Another night, another party, sayin’ hi to everybody.” But by the end, the song reveals itself to be a modern expression of the blues, about a young woman trying to navigate life in an era where privacy is virtually nonexistent. Grande ultimately earns the use of that sample, and it’s her refusal to fake a smile that proves to be what makes her so damn likeable.

Label: Republic Release Date: February 8, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending