June 2, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

One of punk’s least-discussed characteristics—The Secret Punks Don’t Want You To Know About—is that the vast majority of its bands are retreads of other, older bands executed with varying levels of competence. This isn’t necessarily a negative trait; in fact, many bands and their fans are more than happy with the arrangement. Not every band wants to rip down barriers with a handful of chords, and not every fan wants them to; really, the primary reason punks become punks is because there’s no barrier, physical or metaphysical, no hierarchy in the way there are in other genres of music. The people playing the music are on the same level as the fans, their problems similar, their triumphs and defeats all the more impactful because of that perceived equality. Everyone has their influences, and some wear them more blatantly on their sleeves than others. While that uniformity can breed a degree of complacency, there’s a certain kind of comfort in it, too. This is all for fun. It’s fine. And because that familiarity can yield tempered expectations, it often ends up exponentially more exciting when a band openly strives to subvert them, live and on record.

The thing about Fucked Up is that, while some publications will lead their readers to believe the band exists in a vacuum, punks (tru punx!!!) know that that’s not the case. Fucked Up are a punk band, first and foremost—an atypical one, but one nonetheless. Their three-guitar attack is a whirlpool of snarling and searing sound; it’s so loud that, a few minutes in, you might actually feel like you’re drowning. The nuances float to the top, though, if you pay close enough attention. Mike Haliechuk’s leads offer drops of brevity and an unconventional sense of melody, while Ben Cook and Josh Zucker’s rhythms swell on either side of those leads, seemingly in a constant state of almost cresting but never quite breaking. Meanwhile, frontman Damian Abraham, hirsute, shirtless, asscrack likely hanging out, is barreling around the stage and into the crowd like a man possessed, barking into a microphone that, when not in his face, is being swung around the stage or around his neck like a noose. Because the band’s audience exists beyond the punk scene, it’s a unique and, one could argue, optimal experience—one focused on inclusiveness. Seeing Fucked Up live, there’s a sense that anything can happen, which used to be a common feeling when attending a punk show. Not so much anymore.

After the calculated, highly conceptual genius of 2011’s David Comes To Life, many—including those in the band—wondered where Fucked Up could possibly go next. Over the preceding years they’d stretched the boundaries of what hardcore can be, from the energetic, confrontational Hidden World to the satisfyingly opaque, Polaris Prize-winning The Chemistry of Common Life, to the expansiveness of the Zodiac Series (so far, the band’s six titular songs in the series total 85 minutes in length, none of them wasted).

Then, just when we thought the monolithic, pulsing, experimentally tightly wound, overt rock-operaness of DCTL had possibly breached it for good, Glass Boys comes along, far more gaunt but also much denser and more experimental than what had come before it.

Glass Boys sees Fucked Up tackle their own success, self-doubt and mortality in a way that’s deeply, uncharacteristically personal while remaining characteristically high in concept. The relationship between the openness of the lyrical content and the airy nature of the album’s production is no doubt intentional: Jonah Falco’s drums act as a lead instrument more often than not, especially on “Echo Boomer,” “Warm Change” and “Paper The House,” and it’s an interesting stylistic choice for a three-guitar band that ultimately gives the record the bulk of its first-impression personality. The guitars swirl more than pound, especially on tracks like “Led By Hand,” and even when they do pound, like on “The Art of Patrons” and “DET,” it’s with more of a classic rock swagger than a punk energy. Those more ethereal tendencies have always been bubbling underneath the surface, but on Glass Boys they’re used to near-perfection. Abraham counters the more melodic musical direction by barking and snarling more aggressively than ever before; “The Great Divide” may contain his most frenetic vocal performance in a career that’s full of them.

It’s common for thoughts and ideas to become denser and weirder as one looks further inward. Glass Boys is essentially Fucked Up’s manifestation of that through a punk lens that, despite its characteristics, remains approachable and unique in ways that seemingly only this band can manage to create. It’s an astounding piece of art that, once again, raises the bar for what hardcore can accomplish.