Can a 23-minute long track with acoustic interludes be the best punk song of the decade?
The Onion’s hardcore little sibling, The Hard Times, is occasionally a little too on the nose with their jabs. Just like The Onion’s vicious take downs of politics, The Hard Times’ biting sarcasm of all things punk can get a bit real. Such was the case when they claimed that Deafheaven regularly fell asleep at their own shows, or when they announced “Fucked Up to Release New EP on Clay Pot”.
Fucked Up, from their name down, has never been an orthodox band. The Canadian oddballs’ best release was a punk-opera with an unreliable narrator and a plot line that did to the 4th wall what Damian Abraham’s howls do to the vocal cords. Between that and their now legendary 12-hour (!) show in 2008, Fucked Up might be the most unpredictable band in punk. The Hard Times’ article, though, was poking fun at their Chinese Zodiac EP series, a set of monolithic songs released each year to honor “Year of the 'X'”. Last year’s “Year of the Dragon” was a thrashing and massive beast, a proper tribute to the scaly title reptile. “Year of the Hare” also reflects its titular critter, with Fucked Up making a bouncing, bounding song that gleefully leaps from idea to idea over its 23 minutes.
Fucked Up can play it soft, but the opening of “Year of the Hare” starts as an uncharacteristic whisper. A gentle electronic hum and the slight shifting of wind all flow through the sound before twin acoustic guitars lay out the main melody. It’s a folky and gorgeous sort of interlude, light-years away from “Year of the Dragon”. The only hints of something more vicious are the occasional packets of sound, teleported from future portions of the song, interjecting with blaring rock. The guitars slowly fill the sound before fading and giving way to a pallor hall piano that plays a theme straight out of classic heist film The Sting. It seems to have been recorded from a far distance away, both in space and time. It gently meanders around, giving a nostalgic, near melancholy feel to a song that will soon be bursting at the seams with electric energy. Sure enough, those random interjections of violence finally flesh out into a full band romp, a crashing and thrashing thing that evolves into the true center of “Year of the Hare”. For the attention deficient, the five-plus minute build-up might be unbearable, but for those with more patience, the long wait only makes the slicing introduction to the full band that much more thrilling.
The guitar attack of Mike Haliechuk and Josh Zucker might be playing the same theme from the stripped-down segment, but here it’s filled with fiery energy, matching the yowls of Abraham, who examines the effects of time and creates surreal Groundhog Day scenarios. “Mad as a march hare, two days late / They stole all my time and ate all my space / A thousand rabbits with a million heirs / It's always tea time in the year of the hare”, goes the chorus. Fucked Up have always had a flair for the anthemic, but this Alice in Wonderland-style biting roar is one of their finest and catchiest. Even those with delicate vocal sensibilities might find themselves screaming along to Abraham.
After a blistering guitar solo, Fucked Up give us a false ending that segues into a more staccato and tension filled section. Fellow Canadian Isla Craig takes over the mic, her strong, warm performance proving the perfect counterpoint to Abraham’s madness. While Abraham flailed about, looking for a way out of a time loop, Craig beautifully meditates, her voice slowly growing in time with the music’s slow burn. It’s steely, stoic, and graceful and it can’t last for long. It eventually explodes back into the main theme, but not before reaching its own golden climax, full of a multitude of Craigs singing over glowing guitars.
“California Cold” is tacked on next to “Year of the Hare” and, in comparison, its eight minute run time feels down right restrained. Even though it’s got plenty of guitar licks and drum fills, it’s the cool down from the marathon "Year of the Hare”. In particular, the sweetly psychedelic guitar solo that leads the song’s second half is mesmerizing and tranquil, the perfect setting to float away in.
Still, “Year of the Hare” is the real reason you’re here. A stunning rock song that feels like a long lost classic, “Year of the Hare” has ten times the ambition of most songs in any genre, and its sprawl, scope and daunting raucousness further cement Fucked Up as mad geniuses. It's sheer exuberance and brilliance in equal force.