Fucked Up's 'One Day' Captures the Band at Their Most Urgent

BY Owen MorawitzPublished Jan 27, 2023

In the liner notes to 1986's The Hammer Party, a compilation album of early EPs from noise rockers Big Black, Steve Albini reflects on the concept of temporality through self-effacing punk rock iconoclasm: "We were trying to figure it all out. We still are, actually. Time puts everything into weird perspective. What sounded wild then sounds timid now thanks to the numbing effect of the myriad trends we've been subjected to since. We were proud of this shit, though."

For Fucked Up, proudly embodying weird perspectives is probably the closest thing the quintet have to a cohesive mission statement. At this point in their storied career, it feels beyond superfluous to attach the "concept" modifier to descriptions of a new album. The Toronto outfit have consistently eschewed conventional takes on their hardcore punk foundations for over two decades, instead preferring to dive headfirst into elaborate thematic conceits with the kind of ambitious zeal worthy of the most intentionally complex '70s prog-rock staples.

Even just a cursory glance at the last five years of their prolific and supremely intimidating back catalogue (sitting at 126 releases and counting) reveals a group that aren't merely unafraid to push genre boundaries so much as ignore them entirely: the sprawling, "prog-punk odyssey" of 2018's Dose Your Dreams double LP; the 90-minute-plus, single track delirium of 2021's Year of the Horse 12-inch (the ninth addition to their ongoing Zodiac series), and last year's Oberon EP, a mythological romp through psych-fuelled, Melvins-adjacent sludge. With this framing in mind, it becomes less noteworthy and more self-evident that One Day, the latest full-length effort from the collective, would represent both a creative challenge levelled directly at a unit of time and a literal evocation of temporality as a force that shapes human phenomenal experience.

Originating as a singular vision in the mind's eye of guitarist/producer Mike Haliechuk in late 2019 ("I wanted to see what I could record in literally one day"), the initial skeleton of what would become a 10-track project was hashed out in three eight-hour sessions before additional instrumental layers were added during the tumultuous months of 2020. These pandemic necessities aside, Haliechuk remained fiercely determined to preserve the essence of spontaneity as the record's thematic focus: "Twenty-four hours can feel like a long time, but you can get a lot done then, too. It can feel like forever and one minute at the same time. If you work on something for one day, it can end up being really special," he said in a press release.

In a way, this turn towards impulsive creativity and coercive time restraints makes complete sense. While their rock-opera concept records like 2011's David Comes to Life require lengthy Wikipedia entries to adequately summarize recurring characters and intersecting plot lines, Fucked Up have always thrived on the visceral import of their live stage presence: a sweaty testament to the ritualistic rush of fight-or-flight responses, often veering from moments of blissful cathartic tension to the imposing shirtless visage of burly frontman Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham gazing down on a raptured crowd through his blood-soaked mic cord crown. What One Day achieves then, unshackled by this lingering desire for overarching grand narratives, is the purest distillation of that "lightning in a bottle" frenzy, capturing the collective's creative spark at its most urgent — that is: less bells, all whistles.

"Found" opens on the things "we forget when we change the story," thrusting Abraham into the spotlight over shimmering guitar lines. Resting on drummer Jonah Falco's pounding rhythms and Sandy Miranda's methodical bass thrum, the frontman's throaty yelp gently yields to a layered chorus chant weighing the tragic cost of colonial genocide, a dark history punctuated by cumulative acts of erasure (intentional or otherwise) conducted in the name of progress. Much like "Echo Boomer" from 2014's Glass Boys — a record that also channelled the group's anxiety and self-awareness through frenetic takes and grounded immediacy — it's a track that oscillates on a dynamic push-pull of forlorn acceptance and pointed accusation.

With Abraham and Haliechuk splitting lyrical contributions for the first time in close to a decade, this alternating motif manifests in curious ways. Cuts like "I Think I Might Be Weird," "Huge New Her" and the record's title track find Abraham lending a pompous grandeur to Haliechuk's tales of alienated sea captains, Delphic visions of dime-store laundromats and the meaning of love at the "End of History," heightened by sparkling synths, power-pop melodies and harmonized, glam rock guitar licks.

On "Lords of Kensington," Abraham pens a raging indictment against the scourge of gentrification, police surveillance, and systemic injustice, tempered by a sombre instrumental that recalls the churning ebb and flow of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth. Elsewhere, toxic masculinity and fatherhood pop up in the frontman's crosshairs. "Broken Little Boys" plays out as a stomping piss-and-vinegar moment of patriarchal dismissal hinting at the sadness inherent in porn-centric ideas of intimacy ("Is God a broken boy?"), while closer "Roar" dares to hope for solidarity and healing to mend generational cycles of abuse and trauma in a damaged world.

And yet, against all of these ruminations on time, memory, and the dense webs of human connection, "Cicada" stands out as Fucked Up's most candescent celebration of life in the face of ever-encroaching darkness. Propelled by a glorious, Hüsker Dü-worthy hook and Haliechuk's soaring croon, the record's penultimate track acts as a fittingly triumphant ode to loss: "Give me one more day / Let me hear you say / I'll remember you my friend / Your song will never end."

With towering figures like Wade Allison (Iron Age), Riley Gale (Power Trip), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), and many others remembered in the record's liner notes, it's easy to see how Haliechuk transforms the biology of the track's namesake into a powerful metaphor for the ephemerality of existence and the purpose of art. In the guitarist's own words: "We all just live these weird little hidden lives under the dirt, and then once in a generation, one of us gets to bust out of the dirt and intone their song so loud that it can be heard all over."
(Merge Records)

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