Fucked Up - Year of the Tiger
Record Label: Matador
Release Date: February 7th, 2012
One of the most admirable things about Fucked Up is that, even though they’re bigger than ever, they’re still doing their own thing. Having reached a level of success where it’s conceivable for them to ease up a bit, they instead released a 78-minute rock opera accompanied by a fake compilation and four 7’s worth of non-album tracks. Also, unlike Sufjan Steven’s quickly-abandoned an-album-for-every-state venture, Fucked Up’s Chinese Zodiac releases are still very much alive - and the songs are longer and more esoteric than ever.
To this point, the latest entry in the Zodiac series, the recently released Year of the Tiger (which would’ve been their 2010-11 release if they hadn’t gotten behind doing other silly things like making albums and touring), has two of the three longest tracks in the entire series. A single song, “Onno,” is actually longer than the entireties of Dogand Rat, and only two minutes short of the lengths of Ox and Pig (in their two-song formats). Fortunately for all involved, the increased length of their latest releases has come hand-in-hand with an increase in quality - quality that was already quite impressive.
The Zodiac releases have always been an outlet for Fucked Up’s more expansive and experimental material (even in comparison with some of the songs on The Chemistry of Common Life) and those two adjectives are more fitting than ever here. The title track, a comparatively brief 15-minute piece, is a clinic in song-writing and arrangements, even if the usual style of couplet-shackled lyrics are a bit cringe-worthy on occassion. Each measure is an expansion upon the previous one, engendering a feeling of limitless grandeur that Fucked Up seem to be able to conjure up at will.
That instantly recognizable tangle of guitars swirls throughout; whether it’s the chorus, feedback, or a particularly spine-tingling riff, the complex pattern they weave is even more powerful than (and mixed on an equal level to) Damien Abraham’s trademark spitting snarl. It’s a construction similar to the previous Zodiac title track Year of the Ox: long and sprawling while also being tight and completely cohesive, maintaining interest and climactic swell without wandering into territory too dense or weird. This song also maximizes its effect with fashionably late female vocals (though, these being performed by Dutchess Says’ Annie Claude and not Nika Roza Danilova of Zola Jesus, these sound much more like those present on David Comes to Life). There is nothing surprising here, though it makes it no less jaw-dropping. This is Fucked Up doing what Fucked Up does best: sky-scraping, complex, and riveting. But then we have “Onno.”
“Onno” is both quintessential Fucked Up while also being massively different from most of the band’s catalogue. Like in past instrumental tracks, though those are much shorter, this never dips in quality despite Abraham’s stepping aside (arguments can be said that it actually helps such songs flourish). Even a track such as this, a 22-minute beast that plays out like a bell curve, is a unflagging masterstroke. All the things Fucked Up do well are present: consistent tone, constant evolution, and stellar arrangements - but the absence of Abraham, the overriding drone, and the palindromic effect (I gave in and used that term) give it such a different tone. The fact that these two songs are apparently a few years old actually makes sense - the sound is closer to Chemistry than it is to anything on DCTL. Overall, the track is an overwhelming success, though it must be given attention to appreciate everything that is occurring in the lower layers.
Year of the Tiger is everything that was expected and more. Few bands today are on the level of Fucked Up, and each new release - even if they’re been on the shelves a bit - is only furthering that point. Always trying new directions, usually successfully, and channeling the strife and pressure they face into creating better music - they’re just damn impressive.