Slowly but surely over the 13-odd years since its formation in Toronto, F*cked Up has pulled off a rare feat for a group with roots in the marginalized hardcore underground: It’s made itself impossible to ignore, both in the mainstream media (which continues to wrestle with how to publish its name) and in hep indie-rock circles (and not only because it signed to Matador). Via the absurdly ambitious concept album David Comes to Life (2011), the undeniable melodies of The Chemistry of Common Life (2008), or the inescapable intensity and sheer bulk of smart and personable front man Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham, the band has made itself a force to be reckoned with, however unlikely that once seemed. (I mean, if pop stardom was your goal, would you really choose that band name?)
Nevertheless, not since Hüsker Dü has a band melded pop songcraft and punk intensity so effectively, and F*cked Up never has been better than on its laser-focused fourth full studio album Glass Boys. Critics who quibble about Abraham’s guttural roar or the sometimes overly ornate poetry of his lyrics (“I’m a stone sleeping in the cinder/You are the ﬂame dancing on the tinder”) are missing the fact that in hardcore, as in, say, death metal, the lyrics and vocals are not meant to be consumed the same ways as in other genres—they’re as much a mood-setting instrument as any other in the mix. That is to say, singer-songwriter sophistry this ain’t; it’s all about the feeling.
The dominant feeling, this time as on previous outings, is an open-ended rage against the machine leavened with an optimistic hope in the power of community. This ain’t new in punk, but rarely has it been such a joy to listen to, thanks to the sweet backing vocals that sometimes caress Abraham’s howl (“Sun Glass”), the trademark, near-orchestral wall of distorted guitars (“The Art of Patrons”), the hidden hooks highlighted by unexpected production flourishes (“Echo Boomer”), and—the real star here—the unrelenting wallop of drummer Jonah Falco, who multi-tracked his parts four times to make for an even more potent cinderblock to the head than usual. And I mean that in the very best way.
F*cked Up, Glass Boys (Matador)
Rating on the four-star scale: 4 stars.