Fucked Up aren’t just good at making big-idea concept records, they seem to derive their very strength from outsize ambition. The Toronto hardcore band’s two best albums to date, 2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life and 2011’s David Comes to Life, are each massive, double-LP-length albums that tackle some pretty lofty ideas through highly melodic yet no less intense progressive punk songs. Give the band the opportunity to run wild and they’ll take it, consistently pushing past tired, accepted norms of hardcore music and embracing the idea that a sound can always be built upon and made new. Even their debut album, 2006’s Hidden World, is miles apart from traditional. So if 2014’s Glass Boys didn’t quite have the same impact, it’s important to view the album in context; next to David Comes to Life, little would.
Fucked Up’s new album Dose Your Dreams isn’t a return to form. That’s because, in large part, this is a form they’ve never before assumed, though they’ve always hinted at a direction like this. In an early press release, singer/songwriter Owen Pallett declared it the band’s Screamadelica, which is an interesting interpretation, though there’s a kernel of truth in it. Dose Your Dreams is a double-wide psychedelic journey that employs the familiar sounds of Fucked Up records past merely as a foundation for even more stylistic experimentation and formula breaking. There are a number of new sounds on the album interwoven through the band’s roaring punk epics: Saxophone, synthesizers, strings and all manner of atypical production choices, transforming the band into something entirely new at times.
Like David Comes to Life, Dose Your Dreams features 18 tracks, and it’s similarly overwhelming, its lengthy progression of sounds unfolding as if constructed like a mixtape of 18 different bands. And that’s not out of character for Fucked Up; before the release of David, for instance, they released a “compilation” titled David’s Town in which they played the part of a series of fictional punk bands named Redstockings, Gacy and the Boys and the like. That eclecticism permeates every corner of Dose Your Dreams, juxtaposing moments like the dark prog-punk chug of “Torch to Light” against the swirling psychedelia of “Talking Pictures.” And the classic Fucked Up joyful menace returns in “House of Keys,” while one track later on the title track, they’re indulging in a string-laden disco funk. Is it weird? Absolutely. Do they pull it off? Indeed they do, though it’s about here when the question raises itself: What kind of band exactly is Fucked Up now?
Not that it’s ultimately all that important when the band are delivering a number of remarkable songs. The electro-charged industrial buzz of “Mechanical Bull” proves how far Fucked Up are willing to go with their stylistic detours while retaining the muscle and power that’s always driven their hardcore anthems. “Accelerate,” meanwhile, sounds more like the band’s classic punk-rock heroism filtered through a few layers of effects and spat back out in an aggressive spiral. And lead single “Raise Your Voice Joyce” is one of the most immediate punk songs the band’s written in years.
The deeper one goes into the album, the easier it is to notice the relative scarcity of vocalist Damian Abraham’s signature bark. Though he’s clarified that he hasn’t left the band, he’s also emphasized how his role in the band has changed. Even press photos find Abraham standing in the back, less the focal point than part of a bigger machine. Various other members of the band are given a chance behind the mic on Dose Your Dreams, and that—as much as the differences in arrangements, songwriting or production choices—marks just how different the band is now than just four years ago. This might well be the end of Fucked Up as we know and understand them, but they’ve chosen to close this chapter with one hell of a set of songs.
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.