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Fucked Up Become Their Own Black Hole on the Impossibly Dense ‘Glass Boys’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: June 03, 2014
Label: Matador/Arts & Crafts

Fucked Up’s first compilation was called Epics in Minutes, and even when their epics got longer — from 2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life forward – their great quality remained their density. Their ambition swelled, but their palette stayed small; they crammed intricate melodrama into their songs without conscripting orchestras or narrators. (Even their ongoing series of singles based on the Chinese zodiac are as unadorned as 15-minute hardcore songs based on the Chinese zodiac can be.) David Comes to Life, a 77-minute punk-opera romance about bombing factories in Thatcher’s Britain — a great album, but one that required not only a dramatis personae but, in practice, an intermission — was a single giant epic comprised of 18 little ones: towering, knotty anthems, overstuffed with melody, that rarely crested five minutes and rarely messed with their modest mix of guitar-bass-drums-screaming. (Singer Pink Eyes’ raw-throated howl makes you wonder how many human emotions are, at bottom, only screaming.)

David‘s follow-up, Glass Boys, has fewer tunes-per-hour, but it’s also half the length, and its melancholy reflection on the past allows for a broader emotional palette. (You might not think melancholy reflection is a very screamable feeling, but consider the perfectly appropriate climax of “DET,” which goes “BABY I KNOW IT COULDA BEEN ME INSTEAD!”) What ends up differentiating these songs — what makes you look forward to them — isn’t melody but noises: the gravelly crackle of “DET”‘s buried rhythm guitar, the spiraling emo sing-along amidst “The Art of Patrons,” the chanted chorus phrase that sweeps like a lighthouse beam across every other measure of “Sun Glass,” all supported by an interlocking mesh of drum tracks as trickily rousing as anything the band has done. The moment “Warm Change” is in danger of sinking anonymously into the album’s little sea of guitars and bellows, it rescues itself with two-minute guitar solo, redlined, drenched in fuzz, and eventually accompanied only by a stately organ. You might not like this, but you will remember that it happened.

Stunts like this are landmarks — signposts of a kind unavailable in David Comes to Life‘s roiling ocean. Glass Boys is easier to navigate, and doesn’t engender the same awe. But its brevity allows Fucked Up to loosen a little — to indulge in sounds and tones they forwent when their albums sprawled. Less space, and more stuff: the band keeps getting denser.