Published Nov 23, 20081. Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
"I'm almost completely satisfied with the way it turned out," Damian Abraham, lead vocalist for Fucked Up tells me about his band's newest album. Where the band's previous full-length, Hidden World, relied heavily on long, meandering moments to create a visceral sonic landscape, ChemCom takes more of a direct approach. "The problem with Hidden World was that we never really did get the chance to self-edit," Abraham says. "We were never given the opportunity to sit back and go, like, 'maybe this is going on a little bit.'"
Some extra studio time brought a surface-level return to more traditional punk rock elements. There are fewer drawn-out moments (all but three tracks fall below the five-minute mark), and the entire record pushes forward unrelentingly thanks to the rhythm section of Jonah Falco (aka Mr. Jo, drums) and Sandy Miranda (aka Mustard Gas, bass) casting an old-school punk vibe to the proceedings. But Fucked Up is still anything but a conventional hardcore band, only this time they rely more on subtle flourishes to make the songs unique. The guitars of Mike Haliechuk (10,000 Marbles), Josh Zucker (Concentration Camp) and Ben Cook (Young Governor) are piled tenfold on top of each other. Using layers and layers of guitar to create a wall of sound, the result is more inviting than one might assume as the high end of the music interweaves with French horns, flutes and operatic vocals to create some truly beautiful moments.
Thematically the record is day to Hidden World's night. "The only mandate this time was to create a positive record," Abraham offers. While the lyrics to ChemCom explore some pretty vast themes, in the end they always return to a type of positive introspection. "This record is sort of about the little things and the small things - the things that we take for granted and the power that they have."
The positivity of ChemCom fits perfectly with the dichotomy of Fucked Up - a band known both for putting on intense, all-inclusive, aggressive live shows, but also for using cryptic, dark imagery to shroud them in mystery. While the music is aggressive and driving, it is still beautiful and uplifting. "I think it's about finding beauty where there is none or finding elation in the demolition," says Abraham. A more apt summation of Fucked Up and The Chemistry of Common Life may not be possible.
2. Gaslight Anthem The '59 Sound (Side One Dummy)
In the last two years, a lot of punk bands have realized the untapped goldmine that is Bruce Springsteen's oddly punk-friendly back catalogue. And while the trend is wearing thin, no band wears their long-standing Boss influence with more well-earned pride than Jersey's the Gaslight Anthem. The title track from this, their second full-length, will undoubtedly go down as one of the best punk singles of the last decade; in a genre full of posturing, these guys are the real deal.
3. Dillinger Four Civil War (Fat Wreck Chords)
After returning from their six-year escape plan, Dillinger Four throw a homecoming party full of gateway drugs, fruity pebbles and clown cars. Someone drunkenly calls Stereolab and 7 Seconds on three-way while Patrick Costello sparks up the microphone, puffs, puffs and then passes it to his band mates. Choruses and hooks make-out while Democracy Now! blasts from the speakers. Deep dark secrets are exposed, someone tosses the blueprints of punk rock into the fireplace and by the sound of it, everyone there got laid. Rock critics lost their jobs over this shit! That's how good it was.
4. Polar Bear Club Sometimes Things Just Disappear (Red Leader)
If the demise of Hot Water Music and Small Brown Bike got you bummed out, you should have known that it was only a matter of time before another band became the flagship for post-hardcore. Polar Bear Club hinted that they would be up to the task on 2006's The Redder the Better. With Sometimes Things Just Disappear the upstate New Yorkers come through in spades with an entirely compelling mix of melody and aggression.
5. Paint It Black New Lexicon (Jade Tree)
It's hard to do something truly different in a genre like hardcore. The rules are set, and there's not much room to do anything really left-field. Unless you're Paint it Black, and you enlist an abstract hip-hop producer to make your third full-length. An all-out aggressive assault that works as a perfect homage to '80s American hardcore, New Lexicon differentiates itself through the use of bat-shit crazy interludes and breakdowns, melding straight-up hardcore with unexplored electronic sonic textures. In lesser hands, it could have failed miserably. But it rules.
6. D.O.A. Northern Avenger (Sudden Death)
Celebrating 30 years with what is undoubtedly their strongest album since Hardcore '81 - yes, that's saying a lot - Northern Avenger is exceptional. Upbeat, vicious, raucous and intelligent, these 15 tracks ravage with dominance and power, one of hardcore punk's most vital efforts in the last half-decade. Bob Rock's production skills lend themselves surprisingly well to D.O.A., pulling something out that has been sorely lacking for many years. If sitting through all of those re-releases was necessary to realize the supercharged supremacy of Northern Avenger, it was entirely worthwhile.
7. Brutal Knights Living By Yourself (Deranged)
Like their buds in Career Suicide and Fucked Up, Toronto's Brutal Knights play fast and pissed hardcore, but their tongue-in-cheek sense of humour takes a front seat. This is showcased brilliantly on Living By Yourself, as the subject matter follows sex, food, and the future. Of course, the music is top notch '80s hardcore with a hint of garage punk for the extra sass. Stupid for the fun of it, Living By Yourself was a welcome distraction from these grave times.
8. The Loved Ones Build & Burn (Fat Wreck Chords)
When a band releases an instant classic like 2006's Keep Your Heart, changing sounds can't be an easy decision. Thankfully, Build And Burn begins with four tracks that could very well have appeared on their debut. A smart move, considering how easily the album transitions into a sound that still has the same potent hooks and earnestness, but with added depth and a more interesting spectrum of influences. Featuring elements of Americana and straight-up anthem-rock, Build And Burn proves growing up in the punk rock world isn't always a bad thing.
9. Bridge and Tunnel East/West (No Idea)
Not since ABBA has a group consisting of two men and two women made music this good. Bridge and Tunnel's debut gave the disenfranchised fans of punk rock something to get excited about. With compelling lyrics delivered by three vocalists and music complex enough to challenge but not confuse, outrage directed towards society's ills have rarely sounded so good. Despite the mildly dark themes, the band is clearly having the time of their lives.
10. Able Baker Fox Voices (Second Nature)
An exceptional debut doesn't come from nowhere. These sophisticated tracks are the product of seasoned vets pooling their hardened chops to craft gritty, fist-pumping songs that maintain a punk ethos, but sidestep genre trappings. The tempos stick to an enthusiastic mid-range that provides a lot of space for varied grooves, actual melodies and well-calculated guitar interplay without sacrificing anthemic aggression.
Scott A. Gray