I guess we can blame Nirvana, but around the early ‘90s, rock bands began to confuse “angry” with “angsty”. The last decade was flush with brooding frontmen and lyrics about how no one understands the pain I feel deep inside my cold, dark heart. But where can you turn when you want to soundtrack your fits of rage or stolen car joyrides? Certainly not to the pack of sensitive Sufjans and fragile Feists dominating the American indiescape, or the fashion-forward NME darlings currently ruling England. Perhaps this lack of ferocity is why noisenik and Mclusky producer Steve Albini argued that the band’s previous incarnation was the only British band worth listening to in the last 20 years.
The trio brings anger that is triumphant and joyous, like berserkergang, the rage of fury that Viking warriors were said to experience during battle. Future of the Left have perfected that great relentless grinding texture that heightens the senses and sends blood rushing through the veins. It’s the injection of adrenaline that brings out our Tyler Durden, our id. General Petraeus should be supplying his soldiers with the stuff. Their gleefully menacing noise is thankfully preserved from Falkous’s Mclusky days and is used with aplomb in opener “The Lord Hates a Coward”.
The next few tracks sound like call-to-action singalongs that will undoubtedly be live staples. One can only imagine a sea of pumped fists accompanied by voices shouting the anthemic bridges in a smokey bar. The record is sparsely produced, most likely a nod to the notoriously laissez faire Albini, who worked on previous Mclusky albums. That’s fine; there’s enough muscle behind Kelson Mathias’s bass to fill a room, while drummer Jack Egglestone rolls the sound forward with economical drum work.
While we’re discussing music in financial terms, it’s worthwhile noting that Future of the Left is the most fiscally responsible rock band around. Every note counts, no feedback is wasted, no screech misplaced. You won’t find any noodling here, as Mathias leaves his previous prog rock work with Jarcrew in the dust. It’s as if the band is pouring so much energy into each song that they run out of steam after the three minute mark, which only happens a couple of times.
The momentum continues like a spinning top, only wobbling with a stupid in-joke at the end of the fourth track, where Falkous and Mathias spend a full minute calling a friend (enemy?) a “pretty pussy… cat”. This piss-take is the only point at which the album falters. A perfect sequence of oddball pop sing-a-longs and unrelenting chest-pounders follows. We are treated to some pouting Iggy swagger with an “I Wanna Be Your Dog” piano riff in “Real Men Hunt in Packs”, which mercifully serves to release tension rather than gimp the momentum. The album closes unexpectedly with a hushed piano ballad, an excellent counterpoint to the rest of the album’s inexorable grind.
Andy Falkous’s twisted non-sequiturs and enigmatic vocal style has changed little from his time with Mclusky. Frank Black yelps and syncopated Steve Albini sneers influence Falkous’s vocal vitriol, the impact of which is not diminished by the presence of keyboard in a few songs. In both content and form, Falkous’s delivery is always unpredictable, nonsense subject matter as, uh, sausage on a stick. Having inherited the Pixies frontman’s uncanny postmodern songwriting technique (just think of some words that sound cool, who cares if it means anything!), Falkous spits out absurdisms and gasps for air with every ounce of passion available to him. When he sputters, “Better bovine than equine / Better hedgehog than porcupine / Better half-cut than borderline”, you’d think he was pouring his heart out about his embittered ex, but it’s probably baloney. Mathias adds an echoed harmony now and then, which somehow provides even more texture to the already wide-ranging lead vocals.
Everyone wants to know if Future of the Left is Mclusky 2.0, which probably makes Falkous wonder where all his fans were before his band broke up. Curses feels more like a natural evolution of Mclusky than a debut album. This album possesses the perfect ratio of brains, brawn, and balls, and here’s hoping the new lineup will eclipse the popularity of its forbearers.
The very existence of Future of the Left seems like a reaction to today’s glut of Swedish twee and throw-back electropop, which themselves contrast the moody cock rock that’s ruled the airwaves for the last decade. They kick down the door with a steel-toed boot. Conjuring a classic Chicagoan Touch and Go sound, the trio sound like nothing else in Europe, let alone Whales. Future of the Left is the sound of a giddy escape from a mental hospital. If you have any enthusiasm for punk rock left in you, a listen to Curses should make you immediately scramble for a glimpse at the band’s tour itinerary.