I had a brilliant idea in the shower two days ago. I’d write my next Gray Area column about R. Kelly. Robert Kelly, a true American musical genius and auteur. But a lot of you have a hard time taking that man’s work as seriously as he does, and I don’t think you’re ready to write an honest, critical analysis of his work.
So instead, we’re going to chat about Canadian hucksters Fucked Up. Equal parts Pixies, Jethro Tull, and Minor Threat, the band cuts their roots as an 80s hardcore band, but it’s fairly clear from the get-go that their riffing is a bit too soft, their intentions a bit too grand, and their output a bit too well orchestrated. We’re talking about a band here who staged the longest concert ever in Times Square, trashed MTV Canada twice just because they could, and has put hidden grooves in some of their numerous seven-inch singles. It’s hard to really try and pin down their true intentions, or their true musical direction.
The band released countless seven-inches throughout the aughts, and then with Hidden World in 2006 they simultaneously started experimenting with drawn out intros and wore out their hard riffing as a way of life. In 2008, Chemistry of Common Life expanded even further into non-traditional hardcore structures, seeing the band up their chops and expand their horizons won them the Polaris music prize in Canada.
But what we should really be talking bout is their seminal eighteen minute track “Year of the Pig,” from the twelve-inch single of the same name. It starts with a jaunty 3/4 walking bass line and soft drumming, and builds on itself with actual singing (from a lady no doubt!) and expansive piano playing in a classic sense. As it builds and Pink Eyes’ vocals come in, the song changes course and ends up with an extremely sophisticated section in the middle where the drums are playing in a different time signature as the bass, pushing the notion of polyrhythms just about as far as Yes took them. Essentially, everyone’s favorite hardcore band of the past six years went full on prog rock and managed to not alienate their fans.
Now, not everyone might recognize this brand of prog, since Minor Threat fans tend not to be sympathetic to Ian Anderson, his flute, or his tights, but let’s face it: “Year of the Pig” would fit nicely on anything between Minstrel in the Gallery to Heavy Horses. Substitute 80s hardcore riffs for Jethro Tull’s early heavy blues metal riffs, and voila.
I’m not entirely sure what this means for the future of hardcore. There’s been a handful of throwback bands lately, but there always seems to be some sort of progression into other genres. Hell, the new Blacklisted sounds exactly like Nirvana. Ultimately, I think the love and respect that Fucked Up has for music is what helps them pull the whole thing off. If you read any interview with the band, they’re all vinyl nerds who listen to a lot of music all of the time. And while superfans don’t always become the best artists, there’s an attention to detail that helps them craft authentic songs. It works for Patton Oswalt in comedy, and it works for Fucked Up in hardcore.
Gray Area Score: Concrete