Pennywise - 'Badge of Pride' (Straight Ahead, 1999)
Fucked Up - 'Son the Father' (The Chemistry of Common Life, 2008)
(the post title comes from a mis-remembered line in the Embrace song, 'End of a Year'. It would be a mixtape post, except for the fact that there's nothing in between those two songs that I really want to include - and therein lies the rub, and the 'holiday')
This isn't an anti-Fucked Up post, or an anti-hardcore post. It's a pro-punk rock post, and a pro-progressive punk rock post. I do think that the current Fucked Up album is overrated, but I also think that the importance of things being overrated is, well, overrated. So my aim is not to denigrate that album, but to put it into some sort of perspective.
'Badge of Pride' is the song that got me into punk and hardcore, via Punk-O-Rama #5 (2000). That album, Straight Ahead (1999), still stands up for me today, as does its predecessor, Full Circle (1997). In that respects, it's thus the first and the last straightforward - however melodic or 'poppy' it might otherwise be considered - hardcore song in my listening history.
At the time, "Hardcore 'til the day I die" seemed to me the most impossible ambition, philosophically speaking, but also the most sincere musical statement that I had ever heard. Some of the lyrics became gradually more problematic as I grew older - for example, how do you square "Say what you wanna say I'm not listening anyway" with a liberal, progressive and democratic political outlook? It's not impossible - part of the sincerity of hardcore/punk is the expression of attitudes in conflict with, as well as in support of, idealism - but it is difficult, and I think it's that tension, above and beyond purely sonic issues, that drives the typical listener, from across generations, along the line from hardcore to post-hardcore.
Beginning with this post and this post, I attempted to address a fellow blogger's contention - urbanology - that Refused's 1998 album The Shape of Punk Come marked the last really great hardcore/punk record. I came up with a personal list of, broadly, post-hardcore and screamo albums from the last decade, or part of it. For me at least, those six records (from Hot Water Music, American Steel, Mclusky, Envy, La Quiete and Sinaloa/Ampere) covers the main movements in 'new sounds' that have kept punk and hardcore fresh. Even this year, which hasn't exactly been spectacular for punk - with the exception of the one album featured above - has provided new variations on the post-hardcore and screamo fronts from Have A Nice Life, Loma Prieta and ...Who Calls So Loud; as well as my personal favourite punk album of the year from Shooting at Unarmed Men.
Mostly for the reasons outlined above, there is an almost complete bias amongst those choices away from straight-up hardcore. Upon posting the list, I was encouraged to go listen to Modern Life is War's outstanding 2005 album Witness - which is of superb quality, but still not quite my thing. And more recently, urbanology returns - to 1998 - with the twin brother to Refused's The Shape of Punk Come, Abhinanda's Rumble. This record, also from Umea, Sweden, represents another side of the same end-of-the-century movement:
"In retrospect this period with its releases, its shows and the lyrics, the whole scene seems like the climax of the new school hardcore in Europe; soon after that the music changed and hardcore-music got more into metal and tough guy shit, while the scene that held up the ideals of punk and hardcore (sometimes in a very dogmatic way) branched off the limited possibilities of the music. The last records from Abhinanda and Refused are a good symbol of it. Both bands told in many interviews, that after their releases from 1996 they fell into a black hole and soon started to search for a new way, in music and expression in general. Refused undoubtedly went to the highest step with “the shape of punk to come“, the epitaph and throne of that sound in one. A few weeks after the release, and I hope I remember it the right way, also after Refused split up, Abhinanda released Rumble. A superb record, still with a hardcore basis, but with typical Swedish garage rock’n’roll influences and thirst for experimentation. The songs are rocking like hell, not as arty as Refused, more directly, but not losing the hardcore spirit, the rage, the desperation and the hope."
Rumble is very good, undoubtedly, and an interesting artefact from an overlooked scene, but it also sounds rather dated. A decade old, and it sounds quintessentially like an album from late 90s punk and hardcore. Now we've moved on, far beyond the Epitaph sound and its apogee with The Shape of Punk to Come. Post-hardcore and epic screamo - each one and two decades old already, at least - define the alternative edge of contemporary punk. While I'm partial to some more traditional hardcore, I don't mourn its absence, in stylistic rather than innately spiritual forms, from 2008.
Which brings me directly to Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life. I'll begin by saying that it is a good record, even a very good record - but only potentially, or a slight possibility of being, a great record. In terms of hipster criticism, it makes an impressive #2 in the AV Club list, and a slightly more realistic #17 in the Pitchfork Top 50. Interestingly, in the latter #16 is the Vivian Girls s/t, and #15 the Crystal Castles s/t; both albums arguably more punk, subversive, and creative whilst being - respectively - catchily pop and vapidly electro.
The problem - for me - with The Chemistry of Common Life is that it's being held up as the absolute height of art-punk experimentation, as the apotheosis of post-hardcore. Yet when I hear it, it's a quasi-thrashy hardcore record with a (really) nice guitar sound and songs that extend past five minutes. Those songs are good - they have intelligent lyrics, great hooks, and generally a very agreeable mid-tempo pacing. The growling vocals absolutely don't bother me at all, as anyone who normally listens to hardcore is already familiar with that particular aesthetic.
Essentially, Fucked Up is a surprisingly normal hardcore record, admittedly with a lot of bells and whistles, and an arty gloss that makes it attractive (and this is a really good thing) to people who wouldn't normally listen to hardcore/punk. At base, there isn't then that much difference between the three-and-a-half minute long song from Pennywise above, and the six-and-a-half minute one from Fucked Up - apart from a misperception of the genre of hardcore, or the development of post-hardcore.
When looking for the development of punk rock since Refused - or as Pitchfork takes it back to, Husker Du's New Day Rising - it's to the side genres that the true aficianado turns: the sound of Revolution Summer and all the tunes that this blog originally focused on; this century, the noise-rock of Mclusky or the epic screamo of Envy; in 2008, the post-punk of Shooting at Unarmed Men or the latest developments in post-rock and screamo; or, slightly more commercially, Vivian Girls and Crystal Castles (perversely, I'll stick with them rather than the somewhat dull No Age). Making a melodic hardcore album not only just doesn't cut it for the most progressive record this decade, but also reflects the basic, straightforward hardcore sound - still valid, and still enjoyable - that all the really exciting albums moved away from.
- a guy called Clint got in touch about his sorta-melodic-hardcore band from Toronto that isn't Fucked Up, but who have a very nice EP/album available for download. It's called Outsourced from the New Enemy, and you can get it at their website here. And in case you're wondering, I don't usually do this sort of promo stuff, but in this case I just really like their sound.