Music Review: Fucked Up – Year of the Ox

by thiszine

FUCKED UP
Year of the Ox

Merge Records, 2010

We all know bands grow up, but it’s usually into whiny commercial whores. That’s why it’s so great to watch Fucked Up somehow, with increasing severity, undercut punk’s simplistic ethos with every release. Indeed, they do it again on their latest, Year Of The Ox, the fourth instalment in their Zodiac themed singles line which has led the band in some of their most audibly absurd travels. At times wholly off the cusp in any sense of hardcore punk, Fucked Up’s past five years, since their debut full-length record Hidden World and acclaimed follow-up The Chemistry of Common Life, showcases a band with an itching experimental side waiting to let loose.

On Ox, the title track “Year Of The Ox” opens with an eerie violin and cello build-up, donated by Toronto orchestra ensemble New Strings Old Puppets, that foreshadows the song’s bass line and classical elements. Tension rises for just over a minute before the band kicks in. Damian Abraham immediately spits out bludgeoning vocals in time with the guitar section’s stomping yet gentle hook that prevails as the thirteen minute song’s main riff.

A slight change in that hook switches up progression five minutes in. When the formula returns after a quick bridge, Abraham’s throat lashings assume an authoritative air while New Strings returns for an epic orchestral bridge. The guitar takes a backseat to elevating classical monstrosity reminiscent of Hidden World’s opener “Crusades” but much more ampler. Zola Jesus’s Nika Rosa Danilova dawns her voice in the latter half of the tune, offering mystical vocal swells amidst the now gritty, palm muted guitar line.

“Ox” mixes the grandiose with the gutter. If Abraham stopped wrenching his guts, then Fucked Up would have to be labelled something other than punk or hardcore. The difference in styles begs the question, can punk be classically epic? Perhaps this is a question that will never be answered by the troupe, but this song’s rule bending consciousness displays how punk doesn’t always have to laugh at itself, but can be seriously measured for all signs of integrity. Fucked Up proves punk is real music, and even an academy-trained ear can recognise that.

The single’s B-side is another eye opener. Unlike previous Year Of’s backed with a couple two-minute punk standards, Ox flips over to the twelve minute “Solomon’s Song” that uniquely features a saxophone line lent by Aerin Fogel of the Bitters. The bluesy intro leads to another low-mid tempo drum beat while a high-pitch guitar lead cycles over distant power chords. The song gets trippy as psychedelic delay effects are laid on the guitars during the choruses. When Abraham rests during the many, almost unnoticed, bridges, the band is a marvel. Bassist Sandy wraths the bass strings during this nearly twelve-minute track that offers low pitch punches, spacey bell rings and tremolo feedback jetting out from hidden crevices, and Fogel wailing on the sax for a broad five-minute outro.

Year Of The Ox is monumental in mapping the evolution of Fucked Up from being an abrasive streetcore band to the scene’s forerunning innovators. Long time fans know they’re still thrashing and crashing, but to an obviously more intricate, grown-up style.

– review by John Coleman

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