Arguably no band is taking punk rock to anywhere near the levels of innovation and excitement that Toronto sextet Fucked Up is. Their approach is less about snot and spunk or youthful angst than it is about funneling anxious energy into a soaring, transcendent art form. As albums like Hidden World and The Chemistry of Common Life reveal, in addition to their ongoing Chinese New Year-themed single series, Fucked Up is nothing if not ambitious and far-reaching in scope. That said, they’re still a punk band of sorts, in the loosest of terms, and as such they prove especially potent when filtered down to one side of a 7- or 12-inch single. Since 2002 the band has released roughly two dozen singles and EPs, which could make collecting them a bit difficult, though certainly a worthwhile effort.
Matador Records has intervened on behalf of the collector, however, by releasing Couple Tracks, a two-disc compilation that lines up 25 of the band’s non-album tracks spanning 2002 to 2009. That likely sounds pretty overwhelming, but whereas the Fucked Up of Chemistry of Common Life is a far more epic and expansive beast, here, the group’s output is represented mostly by two-minute bursts of intense, albeit melodically creative punk rock. In fact, Disc two doesn’t even boast a song that surpasses the three minute mark until the Daytrotter Session of “Magic Word,” and even then, just barely.
As awesome a force Fucked Up is when unbound by the constraints of time or medium (or studio budget for that matter), these concise, burly blasts of power chords and Pink Eyes’ fearsome roar make for a kickass listen. And for that matter, they present a pretty clear path from the group’s raw, hardcore beginnings to their prog-punk heroics we hear today. “No Pasaran,” originally released in 2002, is as close to trad-hardcore as the band comes, and that’s pretty damn close. High speed beats, thick fuzz and pure aggression, it’s the kind of thing friends of mine would blast from their cars in high school. Just one track later comes 2006’s “Neat Parts,” a far more approachable, but still quite intense rocker with stronger hooks and a more explicit sense of fun. And I can’t help but be reminded of Rocket From the Crypt when I hear “Generation,” which is definitely a good thing.
The beauty of a singles collection, particularly with a band with such an ongoing and continually interesting evolution as Fucked Up, is that every song is essentially a standout. “Ban Violins” has the visceral intensity to get anyone’s day off to an awesome start, while “Dangerous Fumes” makes for a fine soundtrack to weekend debauchery. “Triumph of Life,” the longest track here, is practically joyous in its epic, major key onslaught. Meanwhile, “Toronto FC” fires, riffs blazing, with rock `n’ roll swagger, and “David Christmas” reveals the group in the holiday spirit, no matter how gruff or destructive.
Couple Tracks isn’t 100 percent comprehensive, and leaves out several worthwhile curiosities, including No Age’s remix of “No Epiphany” (though its video edit is included) and “Stars on 45,” which boasts guest vocals from James Murphy, Jay Reatard and Nelly Furtado, among others. Nonetheless, these two discs are packed with gold. Fucked Up started out pretty raw, but perfected the art of the punk rock single after only a few years, and subsequently saw their generosity overflow. With their two incredible studio albums, Fucked Up already laid claim as the most incredible punk band in North America. Couple Tracks is merely further evidence of that.
Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade
Black Flag – Everything Went Black
Refused – The E.P. Compilation
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.