There’s generally been one consistency throughout Fucked Up’s career. The Canadian band, which has released five albums over roughly 12 years, specializes in a peculiar brand of operatic hardcore. As intense as anything from Hüsker Dü or the Minutemen, the sextet concocts an orchestra of sounds via heavily layered guitars. Primary vocalist Damian Abraham sings like a man who died from smoking too many cigarettes and rose from the grave to warn future generations of the perils of nicotine. His cartoonishly gruff voice often gets paired with sounds alternately aggressive, enveloping, and psychedelic. Known to mix in pianos, horns, and synths, Fucked Up also reflects the grandiosity of Meat Loaf and the punk ferocity of Minor Threat. Taken together, Fucked Up comes on as a hardcore band that feels like an indie-rock act, and its penchant for concept work recalls the scrappier but no less ambitious Titus Andronicus. Dose Your Dreams, at more than 80 minutes, serves as the band’s most musically adventurous work yet. The record slows down the tempos, amplifies the synths, and at times, even feels danceable. My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, where the guitars are still tough even as the band aims for Broadway, serves as a contemporary comparison point. One key difference: The Black Parade teems with hooks.
Fucked Up doubtless thinks there’s a movie somewhere in here. A sequel of sorts to the band’s 2011 album David Comes to Life, the set follows the titular David, now in a dead-end desk job, leaving the corporate world behind after he falls in love with an older woman. She seemingly introduces him to psychedelics, which sets off some of the album’s musical diversions—the Krautrock rhythms of “Raise Your Voice Joyce,” the prog-rock-meets-Bryan Adams cheese of “Normal People,” the disco vibes of the title track—as he goes on a spiritual quest. The collective’s anti-corporate and frustrated-with-life lyrics, largely written by guitarist Mike Haliechuk, spring to the fore. Lines such as, “The key to life is finding your joy, I need another toy,” “You should get a hero’s welcome every morning/When you take a deep breath and put on your jacket,” and “I’m not meant to be stuck in this poverty” pepper the narratives. It’s as if Fucked Up are teens who just discovered Naomi Klein’s examination of capitalism, No Logo. The message, coupled with the fantastical albeit angry sounds of the album, could work as a soundtrack to an updated V for Vendetta, a thriller in which someone in need of an escape gets caught up in another’s quest for revolution.
Dose Your Dreams overflows with ideas. There are string arrangements courtesy of composer Owen Pallett, wild saxophone runs, soothing choirs, call-and-response vocals, retro-futuristic digital textures, and multiple nods to power-pop anthems. The unmistakably harsh voice of David Abraham prevails on most songs, but he’s also often joined not only by the rest of Fucked Up, but artists such as folk singer Jennifer Castle, Dinosaur Jr. leader J Mascis, and Lido Pimienta, the latter a recent recipient of Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize. It all means Abraham occasionally has to actually sing rather than bark, and while using him for contextual shading succeeds in some areas, he usually serves as a vocal brick.
When the band filters its philosophies through a hardcore prism, as on “None of Your Business Man,” Fucked Up feels potent. The orchestral waves hit harder when used minimally, and the sudden bright or offbeat guitar tones feel like another voice to counter Abraham. But like, say, the Clash’s Sandinista!, a similarly sprawling album with moments of wonder scatter amidst filler, Dose Your Dreamsis likely to only appeal to Fucked Up diehards. It’s easy to love the new-wave panic and hysteria of “House of Keys,” but the title track doubles as an 80s nightmare, “Living in Simulation” doubles an odd punk-rock pep rally, and “Mechanical Bull” channels all the worst tendencies of mid-90s industrial.
All of which is to say, despite the ambitions and think-big concepts, Dose Your Dreams needs an editor.
Merge Records’ vinyl packaging commits the cardinal sin of stuffing two LPs into a standard, thin single jacket. Sigh. Both LPs have enough warp that the opening tracks on all sides have a light thumping sound that can be heard at every revolution. The shortcoming calms down as the “needle” moves inward and plays the inner tracks, and beyond the side openers, the vinyl is admirably quiet. Sonically, the record features some scale and expanse, and a ton of addictive energetic drive. A few tracks even create depth and layers that reveal an impressive sonic landscape that underlines the loftier ideas at work. However, such impressive aural pastiches come crashing down whenever Abraham starts screaming over whatever else is happening. It’s almost as if he exists to prank the musicians who are trying to make a thoughtful, provocative record in which the sound serves the art.
Last chance to change your mind...