Year of the Snake by Fucked Up

Release date: March 24, 2017
Label: Tankcrimes

At this moment in time, Toronto’s Fucked Up are my favourite band. I can’t stop listening to them and every connection I have had with them seems so downright related to pure chance. I can’t recall why I bought their second album, The Chemistry of Common Life, why I thought it a good idea to listen approximately once to their superb David Comes to Life album. How I came to decide to review their Year of the Snake EP was a snapshot decision because I knew I’d heard this band before. Their name obviously throws up confrontational aspects due to that word. In fact, according to Wikipedia, drummer Jonah Falco has to keep his existence in the band a secret from his father as it “made him want to vomit”.

Just last week I thought it a good idea to look up the band on YouTube and check out some live performances. In doing so, I added a further dimension to the love affair because I had no idea at all the band would look the way they do. Each band member is aesthetically beautiful and very well turned out, with crisp clean haircuts and college student attire. Then there’s vocalist Damian Abraham. A hulking great fucking bear of a man, with shaved head and mega beard, notoriously presented in a state of half nakedness. In the lighter moment of Fucked Up’s music, he swings his microphone round and has the demeanour of a friendly being. Then when it’s time to preach, he transforms into a furious beast, ready to pounce and determined to break things.

Whilst not everyone might agree with this, I draw certain parallel lines between Fucked Up and Deafheaven. Both acts make music that is perhaps at odds with their appearance and both bands feature a vocalist who is pretty much undecipherable. As with Deafheaven, part of me really wants to hear an instrumental version of the music, but then, would the music have the same impact if it weren’t for those vocals? I truly believe they would not.

So to Year of the Snake, the eight instalment in the Zodiac series. To date we have heard a multitude of genre mixing across the previous records, ranging from 2008’s Year of the Pig with its straight-up punk rockers, 2009’s Year of the Rat, which featured more melodic droning guitar sounds, the deranged duet featured on Year of the Tiger and the superb sonic majesty of 2014’s Year of the Dragon.

On ‘Year of the Snake’, the journey begins with a gurgling baby while Eastern flutes conjure up imagery of Tibetan mountain sides. Psychedelic wah-wahed guitar playfully intervenes before heftily walloped drums add some menace and guitar feedback begins to scrape your earlobes. The sublime core riff wanders into view from the distance and splattered snares kick in machine gun style then the main circular riff really cranks up and Damian’s hollering starts. You can picture him springing into life across the stage. Every mighty thump of the toms, bursts your spleen that bit more, shakes you to your foundations. When the guitars roar into a more expansive sound Damian is demanding “Tell me what you know!”. It’s a powerful moment amongst many in a stunning introduction.

The next section features a riff that has a Celtic hue to it, at least, that’s what I hear and the guitar soloing from Mike Haliechuk is absolutely stellar. Guitars then bring an earthy calm as they begin to wander and warp, flutes return for some meditative reflection. It’s a million miles away from the furious storm that has just passed. Gentle drums, tambourines and guitars nudge at your elbow, trying to pull you back into the metallic wash, eventually you relent and are consumed again by Damian, albeit he’s in a better place than before. Then, a pulsating throbbing sound permeates the air, impossible to identify the instrument making the consuming sound, little backtracked sounds add to the confusion. Flickering keyboards dance sprightly over the hum and neatly segue into an uplifting passage of Eno-esque synths. For the finale, a melancholic piano wanders around the newly created wasteland while delicate shimmering guitars burble. As the pace picks up a girl whispers in your ear before taking flight with some sky scraping vocals and some sweet violins bring some hope. Then the track is brought to a shuddering halt and your left speechless and in awe at the brilliant sonic soundscapes you’ve just travelled through.

Any music at all is going to have a lot to live up to after what has just passed, so accompanying track ‘Passacaglia’ is always going to struggle. Looping keys and scathing stabbing guitars echo over a propulsive groove. An ascending bass line ushers in some alarm tone guitar lines that snake and shimmy. But unlike the previous track, that pulls in so many styles and sounds, this one doesn’t want to venture too far away from the main groove and really is just an extended jam. Shorn of Damian’s vocals, the track lacks dynamic as if to reinforce my earlier thought about instrumental versions.

Fucked Up certainly live up to their name with a modus operandi that consists of doing exactly what the hell they please. Their output to date is incredibly expansive, through a range of odd releases and a determined effort to stay away from the traditional album format. Having said that, 2014’s Glass Boys is an incredible body of work, as is its sister album, Glass Boys (Slow Version). So I look forward to their next album immensely, add them to the list of must-see live bands and absolutely recommend that you check out Year of the Snake. It’s Fucked Up and it’s fucking essential.

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