The band with the name that almost guaranteed them a niche audience has somehow become one of the most venerable rock groups in the country, and their new album is easily an artistic pinnacle in their wide-ranging career.
Fucked Up are a Toronto sextet who started out as anti-corporate hardcore punk kids, with singer Damian Abraham barking like a death-metal screamer. With 2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life, they landed the Polaris Music Prize, international success, and opening slots for everyone from Arcade Fire to Foo Fighters. They wrote album-length rock operas. They worked with a wide variety of guests, from Gord Downie to Owen Pallett to Jennifer Castle to J Mascis and Kurt Vile. Here, they add to the mix Mary Margaret O’Hara and Lido Pimienta and... John Southworth?! They became pillars of their local music community, promoting a wildly eclectic music series called Long Winter, which represented the best of both what Toronto is and what Toronto could be.
And yet: for all their ambition and critical acclaim, the records fell flat, to this critic’s ears: the production oddly muted for such a ferocious live act, Abraham’s amelodic monotonous vocals wearing thin quickly, the band’s prog tendencies clashing with their core strength as a straight-up punk act best consumed in small doses. My opinion was a minority among my peers, but even Abraham himself was musing aloud about how long his band could last.
Dose Your Dreams is a game-changer. It is here that everything this band has worked toward comes to fruition. The production is crisp: the layers of guitars no longer muddied, the drums thunderous, the myriad extra layers expertly woven throughout. The arrangements are more creative than ever, employing atmospheric textures and harsh electronics, as well as Jane Fair’s saxophone and Owen Pallett’s strings. Most important: this record is where Fucked Up find an actual groove, as on the slinky disco of the title track (which owes debts to the Stone Roses), or the mid-tempo Springsteenian rocker “I Don’t Wanna Live In This World Anymore,” or the lilting shoegaze wash of “How to Die Happy,” or the Eno-esque weirdness of “Two I’s Closed.” There’s even a Skinny Puppy influence on the back-to-back electronic detour “Mechanical Bull” and “Accelerate.” Abraham surrenders more lead vocals than he ever has before, and the album is better for it—especially on the duet between Jennifer Castle and J Mascis on “Came Down Wrong.” Meanwhile, the traditional punk tracks (“House of Keys,” “Living in a Simulation”) are visceral, raw and anthemic fist-pumpers; some things never change, and, in fact, even get better.
Credit here goes to guitarist Mike Haliechuk and drummer J. Falco, who seized the creative helm at a time when the band wasn’t sure they would even make another record. This is beyond a doubt their London Calling, their Zen Arcade (there’s more than a bit of Husker Du throughout this album), their The Suburbs. Ten years from now, we’ll be talking about some new young band in a fit of creativity who will have made their own Dose Your Dreams. (Oct. 19)
Stream: “Raise Your Voice Joyce,” “Dose Your Dreams,” “Came Down Wrong”