By Troy Hasselman, November 3 2018 —
The career of Toronto punk veterans Fucked Up has been defined by defying expectations and conventions. Through constant changes to their sound and musical approach, the band has effectively redefined what a punk band can be while still remaining rooted in the genre, with signifiers such as vocalist Damian Abraham’s baritone scream and the band’s collective, relentless energy.
After the massive success of The Chemistry of Common Life (2008) and David Comes to Life (2011) — two highly ambitious albums that eschew punk conventions in favour of grand concepts, diverse instrumentations and guitar parts with so many multi-tracks they sound like a jet taking off in your ear — Fucked Up stripped back their sound and released the bare-bones Glass Boys (2014). After this came a long break as members pursued other projects and the future of the band appeared in doubt.
Now Fucked Up return with Dose Your Dreams, perhaps the most ambitious record of the band’s career. Capping out at 82 minutes and 18 songs, the album includes guest vocalists including Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimiento, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and Canadian folk singer Jennifer Castle, as well as a wide array of experimental forays into industrial-tinged electronica, disco, ambient and psych rock. There’s a children’s choir, too.
What’s perhaps most striking about Dose Your Dreams, compared to previous Fucked Up releases, is the reduced role of Abraham, who appears only on roughly two-thirds of the album. Despite his reduced presence, Abraham remains an absolute cannonball of a vocalist and a welcome presence whenever he appears.
Dose Your Dreams acts as a quasi-sequel to 2011’s David Comes to Life, though it swaps the setting from Thatcherite dystopia to present day, meeting up with protagonist David Eliade at his unfulfilling white-collar office job. After David is fired, he meets a homeless woman in the dumpster behind his office who takes on a multi-dimensional journey through time and space to discover his worth within a late-capitalist society. Though it plays a big role in the album, following the narrative is by no means a requirement for enjoyment of the record with its charms lying primarily within the songwriting and genre fluidity.
Unfortunately, the album’s pitfalls are wrapped in its charm. Its narrative is difficult to follow and attempts to make sense of the story make it easy to forget about the music. The length of the album and the genre shifts can make for an exhausting and challenging listen. The experiments themselves are impressive but songs such as the electronic “Mechanical Bull” make more for interesting curiosities than anything else.
Dose Your Dreams is a fun, albeit flawed, record from a band with a propensity for experimentation. It’s all the more impressive for Fucked Up to make an album this ambitious 17 years into their career, a point where most bands have either broken up or began repeating themselves. It works as proof that Fucked Up are never a group to count out.