FUCKED UP, the Toronto band that will give MusicfestNW a healthy dose of grit on Sunday afternoon, has never lacked ambition.
This is, after all, the hardcore punk band that won Canada's Polaris Music Prize in 2009 for its lush, waves-of-guitar epic, The Chemistry of Common Life, and then earned universal raves in 2011 for its four-act, 78-minute rock opera, David Comes to Life.
These days, Fucked Up is a different kind of ambitious, according to drummer Jonah Falco (AKA Mr. Jo).
"Ambition always seems to be synonymous with 'big' or a lot of something. Even when you talk about it on a personal basis, it's usually like, 'I'm going to make something of myself,'" Falco says. "Ambition is never linked with clarity and [being] concise. Ambition and clarity ought to go hand-in-hand. To be ambitious to the point of being understood is kind of more important than leaving a huge crater sometimes."
To wit: Glass Boys, Fucked Up's fourth album, which is eight tracks and more than half an hour shorter than David. It's not a dense sonic soup or a concept record, but it does feel every bit as powerful as its predecessors. The band—led by the shredded howls of vocalist Damian Abraham, AKA Pink Eyes—ruminates on how to age gracefully while staying true to the ideals that gave rise to Fucked Up in 2001.
Of course, it's easier to pull back and make a record like Glass Boys when you've already proven you can turn out classic records, Falco acknowledges.
"In our ambition to be concise, we had to exhaust all the hugeness out there in the universe first, so we kind of had our cake and ate it, too," he says. "We can be as brief as we want now."
To be clear, Glass Boys is not a collection of two-minute pop-punk jabs. "Echo Boomer" exceeds five minutes, beginning the record with a spine-shivering drum beat and a smear of serrated guitars. And the title track is more than six minutes long, and finds Abraham at his most reflective ("I was the source, now I'm the decay just fading away," "Pretend the kids are strange, but it's me who has changed"), until the album's catchiest chorus rolls in and envelops him in dead-eyed melody.
In between, Fucked Up is Fucked Up: Falco's crushing drums, walls of guitar as tall as the CN Tower, abrasive and sugary sweet, often at the same time. If its public face—musically, aesthetically, philosophically—is any guide, no band should be less concerned about aging gracefully than this one.
"The real concern is how do you... make a statement that is still relevant to who you are as people and musicians, which reflects your experiences without totally betraying the ideas behind the band?" says Falco, tying that impetus to the photo of a classical Greek statue that adorns the album's cover. "It's something that is both ageless and aged, and that's a pretty self-aggrandizing thing to say about oneself, but that's sort of the idea: to leave a statue behind. It can be dated chronologically, but it [also] needs to stand there and be weathered, and that's the sort of thing I hope is achieved with Fucked Up."