For the uninitiated, let’s start with the name. What likely began as a throw-away hardcore band name when longevity was uncertain and short-term thinking ruled, the name Fucked Up has since become something of a mobile (not double) entendre. It signals their aesthetic origins, an uninhibited enthusiasm for experimentation, an ironic sense of self-regard, and an essential zeitgeist feeling, because honestly, who doesn’t think things are fucked up and bullshit, as one Occupy Wall Street sign put it? My point is: don’t let the name deter you. The name stands.
Fucked Up are a Canadian group, based in Toronto, that started out in 2001 and have since released so many albums and EPs that I would need a committed fact checker to fully account for their productivity over time. Wikipedia tells me One Day is their sixth full-length studio album, but while this may be factually true, it doesn’t feel entirely representative. The number conceals their so-called Zodiac Series of 12-inch releases, a number of archival live recordings, numerous demos, and collaborations, including J Mascis, Nelly Furtado, and GZA. A song lasting anywhere between ten and 20 minutes is not unusual in their catalogue. In short, their new album One Day rides a wave of material that’s hard to keep up with, frankly, but reflects the band’s endurance and evolution that has garnered enthusiastic critical attention and devoted fandom throughout their two-decade plus lifespan.
Though frequently categorized as hardcore, this description does little service to reveal Fucked Up’s ambition and outlook. What does “hardcore” mean exactly today, given its origins under 1980s Reaganism and Thatcherism? What are its possible futures after the likes of, say, Nigel Godrich and J Dilla? These questions are arguably at the center of Fucked Up’s career trajectory, resulting in work that has sought to stretch the artistic parameters and definitions of hardcore – 12-hour shows, a rock opera album (David Comes to Life, 2011) – without completely abandoning the essential elements of the genre. The first five seconds of “Found”, the opening track of One Day, reaffirms Fucked Up’s embrace of this style through the pleasingly guttural vocals of Damian Abraham (a.k.a. Pink Eyes) and the cut-shaped guitar work of Mike Haliechuk (10,000 Marbles) and Josh Zucker (Concentration Camp). Yet, by the end of this under-four-minute song, things assume a slower modulation, a backing chorus comes in, and a pop warmth overcomes the listener.
With production started just before the pandemic and a subsequently delayed release lasting two years, One Day consists of ten tracks and clocks in at around 40 minutes, a tight momentum that notably makes it Fucked Up’s shortest LP. It is something of a concept album, even though an argument can be made that all serious hardcore records, going back to the days of Greg Ginn and Jello Biafra, are concept driven. Much of Fucked Up’s oeuvre can be summarized as such.
In this instance, lead guitarist and songwriter Haliechuk limited himself to a 24-hour period – three eight-hour sessions (not a continuous single day as such) – to write and record One Day. Other members complied with this artistic directive by playing on their own and layering their contributions with Haliechuk’s initial material. The result feels compressed, poppy, and admittedly more conventional – a marked contrast to their recent prog-rock-friendly, psychedelic output like the astonishing “Year of the Horse” (2021) and “Year of the Snake” (2017), some of which resembles the ideas explored by Montreal-based Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The approach on One Day may polarize some fans as a consequence, depending on what qualities of Fucked Up—avant-garde pretenses versus punk-metal musings—you prefer.
There is a lot here that is reminiscent of Fucked Up’s label mates at Merge—an energetic power pop sensibility shared with the likes of Bob Mould, Superchunk, and their Canuck peers the New Pornographers (newly signed to Merge), especially when the backing choruses come in. The aforementioned opener “Found” conjures this last reference, as do “Lords of Kensington”, “Nothing’s Immortal”, and the title track “One Day”. There is nothing quite like the downright danceable “Dose Your Dreams” from Fucked Up’s 2018 album of the same name, though “I Think I Might Be Weird” has a Pornographers’ bounce that sticks in your mind and neck muscles.
Meanwhile, “Broken Little Boys” and “Falling Right Under” recall mid-1990s Superchunk (e.g., Here’s Where the Strings Come In from 1995). To my taste, the standout track, among several close possibilities, is the excellent, crowd-pleasing “Cicada”, notably with vocals by Haliechuk. With its dense guitar-and-vocal mix and urgent minor key moments, its sound more than matches any single from a post-Hüsker Bob Mould album.
One Day equally recalls the strengths of Fucked Up’s critically acclaimed second record, The Chemistry of Common Life (2008), which received the 2009 Polaris Music Prize. A return to form as some might say, but, with this band, never for too long. As further suggested by its title, the new album’s central theme is the subject of time, and, taken as a whole, One Day possesses a brightness and sense of happiness that’s addictive and optimistic, even if the lyrics at times insinuate the opposite. Rather than despair, Fucked Up impart the hard-won lesson that the passage of time is what you consciously make of it. They would know. The artistic process affords a way of managing that fact and that dilemma, whether through acknowledgment, memory, experimentation, or other forms of storytelling.
Fucked Up have covered a wide spectrum of approaches over the course of their career, and One Day is in keeping with this spirit of invention and reinvention, by expanding the group’s sound while still maintaining an ethos of ongoing collaboration and collective commitment.