March 12, 2007
FUCKED UP [I]HIDDEN WORLD[/I] REVIEW
[Jade Tree; 2007]
It's amazing that some original punkers either stray miles away from the sound and intent that gained them notoriety or simply put out the same records they always have decades after the fact, while Fucked Up (FU from here on out, pardon my decorum) show us how to grow up gracefully within the constraints of punk-- and this is only their first full album. While they've been more known for EPs and seven-inches until now, Hidden World is the work of a band that sounds much older and more assured than it should.
But even as I type out punk, it doesn't quite fit: You could call it hardcore, as singer Pink Eyes chokes out every syllable like Negative Approach's John Brannon. You could call it experimental because the songs are longer and they have violins; you could still call it punk, as even with all of that, it doesn't stray too far from home base, from four or five blissfully overdriven guitar chords. It steps outside just enough to show you how daring it can be, before reminding you one more time how its gonna fuck you up. Hidden World finds a sort of perfect balance between musical ambition and staying true to the formula, dishing out scads of overdriven three-chord punk pleasers while adding the barest traces of a band with more omniverous ears: Some violins close out "Carried Out to the Sea", a little spoken word adds some healthy pretension to opener "Crusades", and a fantastical element elsewhere to "David Comes to Live". These might sound like shoehorning or attention-grabbing on paper-- truth be told, they're bookends to these songs at best-- but these small touches only serve to make these ambitious songs sound even more enormous.
In "Crusades", a single guitar chord sustains for eons over a twinkling new-age chorus, before their two-note bludgeoning and rabid-dog vocals begin and they maul the familiar formula, leaving those clichés beaten within an inch of their lives. They then run off to dig on some fantastic and impenetrable story about an impatient young boy named David who's "gonna get to heaven tonight," but with an altogether different plan than your Meatloaf-inspired, dashboard-light-style pursuit. All that somehow clocks in at under three minutes; even at their most concise, FU songs like "David" and "Carried Out to the Sea" feel epic because of their extra flourishes.
Yet even at its most straightforward, the record still thrills, nowhere better evidenced than the gloriously confrontational "Baiting the Public", one of FU's best singles: Six minutes of an indomitable guitar and double-bass-drum attack where Pink Eyes berates anyone within earshot, punching in his vocal from either speaker like a Devil on one shoulder and an undead fire-swallower who makes Satan look like a pussy on the other. Calmer and almost classical details follow, however, with a dollop of creepy whispering that introduces the bouncing guitar line of "Blaze of Glory", featuring the album's catchiest hook that praises "small town hucksters, and big city freaks" with maximum fist-pump praise, as well one of the many appearances of Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire), handling all the album's violin parts.
All this would fall flat on its face if FU didn't do the traditional punk thing so perfectly; as is, their aspirations are just the icing on the cake-- a cake with a file in it, with a grenade on the end of the file. The final chords of "Fate of Fates" grind off each other, echoing back and forth through their own purgatory, only to serve as a dramatic introduction to the spitting venom of "Two Snakes", a groove that never tires over its many permutations, including a muted violin-string pluck and Reich-like build-up in its last few seconds. Pink Eyes, meanwhile, never relents from his foaming, strangulated delivery throughout Hidden World, but not so hoarsely that you can't make out his lyrical concerns, ranging from the Book of Enoch and saving our eternal souls to fucking your wife. No concept or approach is too lofty or too stupid; in fact, Hidden World is an incredible testament to the great art then happens when the two meet. Middlebrow hardcore rules OK?
-Jason Crock, March 12, 2007
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