The art-hardcore band’s fifth album is a dynamic departure for the group, a long, psychedelic, concept-heavy odyssey that dips into many genres along the way.
Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham has made a career on a being a bit much: The Canadian punk recently produced an extreme wrestling documentary called Bloodlust and looks like he could get in the ring himself, particularly when the burly, bearded, and frequently shirtless frontman of Fucked Up smashes bottles over his head on stage. He always sings like he’s trying to exfoliate his larynx with loose pieces of his ribcage and they’re the most abrasive vocals anyone will encounter from a band putting out records on Merge. Glass Boys, from 2014, represented Abraham’s purist vision of Fucked Up, a punk rock teleology that traced DIY ethics back to the ancient Greeks and had more guitar overdubs than a Smashing Pumpkins album.
Yet, compared to the band’s double-album rock operas and wooly Zodiac EPs, Glass Boys was a model of hardcore austerity, and its mild reception felt like a referendum on guitarist Mike Haliechuk ceding his artistic control. The line on Fucked Up is that they’ve been expanding the horizons of hardcore, even though it’s a genre they’ve bore little resemblance to, starting with their 2006 debut Hidden World. At this point, it’s clear that Fucked Up are part of the indie rock orthodoxy and everything that made Fucked Up a critical sensation—the saxophones, disco beats, not-all-hardcore genre experiments, and the adventures of David Eliade—are back with a vengeance on Dose Your Dreams.
It begins by recasting the titular character from their 2011 opus, David Comes To Life. Once a budding revolutionary stuck in a lightbulb factory risking it all in the name of love, David inexplicably begins the ambitious Dose Your Dreams as a drugged-up white collar schlub who quits his job on the very first song (”None of Your Business Man”). Minutes later, he meets an elderly mystic named Joyce who guides him through a psychotropic vision quest that challenges his perceptions of reality and vaguely resembles The Matrix, I guess. The plot of Dose Your Dreams could be sussed out like a Magic Eye image if you glance at the titles for long enough (“Living in a Simulation,” “Joy Stops Time,” “How To Die Happy,” “I Don’t Wanna Live in This World”), but anyone who can retell it from memory is either in Fucked Up or read the press release.
Though a thematic sequel to David Comes To Life, Dose Your Dreams demands forgetting everything you know about Fucked Up, and that includes seeing them as a traditionally structured band. Abraham even had to clarify on Instagram that he wasn’t quitting, just trying to accept a lesser role. Sharing the mic with Abraham, guitarist Ben Cook, and drummer Jonah Falco are a litany of guests from Polaris Prize Winner Lido Pimiento to singer Mary Margaret O’Hara to J Mascis. Abraham appears on only about 2/3rds of Dose Your Dreams, which is still about an hour’s worth of a guy who dominates every track he’s on. His voice is a hammer that sees everything as a nail when Haliechuk and Falco are working with stained glass. But Abraham’s unwavering commitment to brute force just as often works to the band’s advantage here, especially since Haliechuk is prone to lyrical flourishes that would send Colin Meloy to his fainting couch (“But who is this tramp sat in front of me/She smiled and said, ‘Jilly I be!’”).
Despite Haliechuk and Falco’s bombastic concept, Dose Your Dreams functions similar to the recent hip-hop blockbusters that share its 82-minute length, best enjoyed in chunks or humming in the background between the singles. There’s plenty of the jet-roar symphonies that typified David Comes to Life, but also new looks at dream-pop, corporate cock-rock strutting, dubby disco, Supertramp, mini-marathons of krautrock, and pure ’90s alt-rock. Even if the creation of Dose Your Dreams was acknowledged by all parties as a contentious power struggle that permanently altered Fucked Up, it at least sounds like one hell of a party.
This is particularly true on the title track and “Talking Pictures,” which sounds a bit like Abraham letting loose at a Madchester rave in 1991. These songs are what likely led composer Owen Pallett to describe this album as Fucked Up’s own Screamadelica, though much of Dose Your Dreams can be enjoyed as a home version of “Beat Shazam”: based on the three-song run of “How To Die Happy,” “Two I’s Closed,” and “The One I Want Will Come For Me,” this could’ve been called Fucked Up’s Loveless, Person Pitch, or You’re Living All Over Me as well.
Even with all this dynamism and attention to detail, it feels exhausting to even consider returning to all 82 minutes of Dose Your Dreams. Fucked Up have gone all in on maximalism, but it never feels like they fully interrogated its implications—by the time the jackhammer industrial pulse of “Mechanical Bull” and “Accelerate” push the album in genuinely new directions, they bear the weight of an hour’s worth of extraneous choruses, multi-tracked guitar solos, and five-minute plot-movers. For the size of the ask, where’s the emotional buy-in? David’s storyline basically evaporates 10 minutes in, Abraham feels like a guest amid the cavalcade of other voices, and it’s less of a new path forward for Fucked Up than getting back on course as a generation’s most hardcore indie rock band. There’s a Gatsby-like void at the center of Dose Your Dreams—it’s a big party, but it’s unclear who or what exactly is being celebrated.
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