Assessing Fucked Up’s recent Year of the Tiger, Douglas Wolk writes “Let’s call this an album, OK?” I’m not sure I’d call 2009’s Year of the Rat an album, exactly (it’s seventeen minutes long, shorter than Year of the Tiger’s b-side). But it’s a crucial piece of the Toronto punk band’s scattered and significant body of work. It’s the third entry in their Chinese Zodiac series, and best so far.
From 2012, it’s clear that Rat caught Fucked Up and the end of a phase of their career. They’re not yet bingeing on collaborators, inviting along violins and saxophones, or leavening Pink Eyes’ howl with melodic counterpoints. These changes were to come--natural progressions, for the most part--with the onslaught of accessibility that is 2011’s David Comes To Life.
Year of the Rat followed 2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life, whose chief innovation was to layer guitars on top of guitars on top of guitars, taking a cue from the Smashing Pumpkins. FU had added a third guitarist around this time, but three guitars weren’t enough for these songs. This overdub-mad approach from chief ax-slinger 10,000 Marbles gave the songs a powerful sheen. It’s still punk, but in the tradition of Husker Du’s later records. Year of the Rat is crucial because its two songs are the intensest overdub nightmares FU made.
On “Year of the Rat,” the band gathers its energies before blowing the doors off at two minutes. The headlong rush of the guitars is augmented by Mr. Jo’s drums, panned to the extreme edge of either channel. The overdubs have their own momentum, like those ball-things in Katamari, swallowing speed and volume from everything in their path. By 6:20, “Rat” has powered its way to another loud plain. There’s even a brief return to the intro, before the song flames out in a final metallic burst.
B-side “First Born” has Pink Eyes’ gruff shout from the start. Like “Year of the Rat,” it erupts after a couple minutes. As Pink Eyes screams “this is the greatest moment of my life” again and again, the song shifts into a higher gear, a chugging groove. A searing, woozy riff cuts in, recalling My Bloody Valentine (which their overdubs rarely do). It’s another hulking jam, best heard at volumes that violate your city’s noise ordinances.
Above, I didn’t mean to talk down the sugary direction Fucked Up have followed recently. David is my favorite full-length they’ve put out yet, and I’m worried it will be their last. But the ferocious pile-on of Year of the Rat caught FU at one of the their strongest creative moments, and it’s to be savored.