I was first drawn to the band Fucked Up by the name. Naturally! It conjured up an image of riotous anarchy, no punches pulled dissonant music blitzing at frenetic pace, exhausting energy, all the things that you associate with punk/hardcore. There is all that in their music but I found too an unending appetite and ability to destroy boundaries and to transcend expectations. You will never know what will come your way. That it will be surprising, moving, exceptional music is a near certainty if their stellar record of releases is anything to go by. I think with 2021’s ‘Year Of The Horse’ Fucked Up notched up a new level which is quite the achievement considering the quality of their prior work such as ‘Glass Boys’, ‘The Chemistry Of Common Life’, ‘David Comes To Life’, ‘Dose Your Dreams’. To be able to pull out concept albums repeatedly and with aplomb is no mean feat yet they manage to. I think much of that has to do with their refusal to be governed by ‘done thing’ standards and expectations. Yet for all the excellence of many of their previous releases, with ‘Year Of The Horse’ the band has reached their current peak. And I say ‘current peak’ because I think these guys are capable of scaling more in the future.
Fucked Up is gloriously disrespectful of the lines drawn by the tyranny of genre. Of course, there is punishing hardcore – Damian Abraham’s vocals are on fire – but there is so much more to it than that; sparse folk recalling the chill of the North, spoken word that lays out a story, a touch of psychedelia, electronic phases adding melody and disturbia, the melancholy of Western Classical, even a dramatic piece that would fit well into a cowboy Western soundtrack. All of these are not just in passing as mere tokens of eclecticism. They are woven into the tapestry of this magnum opus as a recurring, enriching pattern. There are many ways of experiencing this album. You could listen to it in its entirety of 94 minutes or ponder over it in shorter EP-sized parts, for it is divided into four of 19 to 26 minutes duration each. You could lose yourself in the story – the four parts are the four Acts of this drama – of fantasy and allegory or you could cast yourself into the calm and the storm of the music and be carried by it on a strange, bewildering, beautiful odyssey… you could do both together. I’ve done all of this many times in the last one and a half years; this music is playing even as I write this.
Little Blanche afraid, the sweet white flower of the village,
In dreams she danced but in truth she was trod upon like any other weed
A poison had come to their home and everyone was sick, and no one remembered
Any other way of living, save for lies, villainy and killing
She would sing until her mother came home drunk, and slapped the song out of her mouth
The flower withered, hoping sleep would bring a day when everything would change
For its base, it has a grippingly written even if familiar medieval fantasy tale but here again, there’s a bit more. I would strongly recommend reading it in the liner of the album. Even as you wonder if it is about the little girl Blanche or the charmed horse that is a mare named Perceval (I couldn’t but help think of “A Boy Named Sue”) escaping desperately to freedom, realisation of the story’s allegorical nature dawns on you rapidly as a fable of oppression, struggle, freedom, redemption that is very real even now in our present. I’m not taken by the what of the writing – too old, too cynical for that – but by the how. Rarely have I seen verse meld so easily and organically with prose and then for both to pour out through music makes it unique in my experience. But as you listen more, you might no longer care about the story which moves into the fringes of your consciousness. Instead you keep discovering layers and nuances to the music, sucked as you do into its deep vortex. It’s a complex piece of work that draws and needs attention. It has given me pause and made me think about the nature of art and of life and it has made me dance as well (yes, like no one is watching…because no one is watching).
There’s a vastness of space that the band plays in; rushing, floating, diving, soaring into and through an astoundingly diverse range of musical realms all of which somehow turns out natural the way this bunch does it. That takes a very high level of intelligence, imagination, and skill to accomplish. I am tempted to use the word genius but I’m wary of using an adjective that gets bandied about gratuitously these days with impunity and little judgement. From all the reviews I’ve read of ‘Year Of The Horse’ I can only conclude that it is quite under-rated despite the fact that they’re all very good. But then again it is hard to describe how good it is. Experience it. A masterpiece.
Please turn on gapless playing if you’re listening to the digital version of this album. The gaps between the various Scenes of each Act (I did say drama) take away from the listening pleasure.
You may stream or buy the digital form of the album on Bandcamp and physical copies are available on the band’s website as well as other stores (I think). It was released as 4 separate parts on streaming platforms, not as an album. So Bandcamp is the best streaming option for this but you can look up the band on the links below.
P.S.: If you get a chance to see them perform live (they have a new album coming out this month), go for it. From what I’ve heard and read, I’m very tempted to be a promoter just one more time to bring them over to India – ideally with Frontierer and BEAR (again) – to just wreck scummy venues and do it in spectacular style 🤣
N.B.: I take no responsibility for the band’s name. It is a name and an identity and I will not mask and maul that.