Third album from Sunderland, England post-punk quartet anticipates the inevitable flux of the times -- the moments where the familiar become foreign, where planned outcomes yield to unseen endgames.
The Futureheads are the Futureheads on their third full-length, This Is Not the World -- rhythmically anxious, melodically electrifying, and almost mechanically precise. They are arguably the best of the current wave of British post-punk bands, but something has changed. The stakes seem higher, the nervousness quickened, the instruments slash and claw with seething desperation. It's all a rush of throbbing eighth notes and downstrokes, of gasps and eyes-shut plunges, a balls-to-the-wall collection of songs that sorts out nuanced arrangements with a blunt bludgeoning tool.
To say that a new album by an urgent band is, well, urgent, is admittedly redundant, but it's also telling that the Futureheads have singled out what is essentially the crux of their style. The Sunderland, England quartet was dropped from its original label, 679 Recordings, following the release of 2006's News and Tributes (the band is self-releasing This Is Not the World on its own label, Nul), and now finds itself in the position where it has nothing and everything to prove. (In the U.S., the Futureheads draw rampant critical acclaim, but aren't as readily consumed by the masses as populist-serving contemporaries such as Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party.) This Is Not the World is also a record caught anticipating the inevitable flux of the times -- the moments where the familiar become foreign, where planned outcomes yield to unseen endgames. "Everything's changing today," lead singer Barry Hyde notes in the record's second half, "Getting further and further away", while the band struggles, efficiently and with great strength, to make sense of the differences.
The intensity of This Is Not the World could also be attributed to the presence of Martin "Youth" Glover, a founding member of Killing Joke, who serves as the album's producer. The touchstones of early '80s new wave remain (the verses of "Sale of the Century" recall early XTC, "Broke Up the Time" stutters like Devo, and Hyde's heavy accent descends from an artist like Joe Jackson), but the soldered combo of guitars, bass, and drums is a decidedly contemporary juggernaut. "The Beginning of the Twist", for example, is aggressive, headstrong, and caught in a minor-key whirlpool -- the band has never sounded this alert and insistent, let alone this martial. Ditto to the crazed scramble that announces "Walking Backwards", the little major-to-minor bombs that drop on the chorus of "Everything's Changing Today", and the untethered emotion that careens out of "Radio Heart". This method of attack even manages to work wonders for "Hard to Bear", the album's weakest track, by manhandling its otherwise balladic course.
So then, This Is Not the World doesn't exactly entertain flights of eclectic fancy. For the most part, it's a guitar-bass-drums record that holds a simple line of pragmatic construction (an acoustic guitar is detectable on "Work Is Never Done", but otherwise, everything is plugged in and lit up). The band's distinguishing vocal harmonies are here as well, though they frequently have to fight their way through the hyper-drive power chords and surging crash cymbals to be heard. They're there, in the undertow of "The Beginning of the Twist" and the muted verses of the title track; sometimes, as in "Radio Heart" or "Broke Up the Time", the instruments will drop out of the mix to allow closer inspection of the vocal interplay, which is nearly as taut as the interplay between the instruments themselves.
I suppose one could be loath to endorse This Is Not the World over the previous two albums in the Futureheads' still-young discography, for it sacrifices the offbeat experimentalism that characterized earlier tracks like "Danger of the Water" or "Hounds of Love" in favor of straight-up immediacy. Sure, it could be said, but who am I to argue with rock 'n' roll this emphatic and cocksure? Get out of its way, I say.