Monday, January 21, 2008

Left of the Damned

Future of the Left have produced one of the best rock albums in years with their debut long-player, "Curses." Refining everything great about singer/guitarist Andy Falkous’ late, lamented trio Mclusky, the Cardiff, Whales-based combo has produced a throbbing mass of 14 tracks full of pounding, intense rhythm and acerbic bite. The pairing of former Mclusky timekeeper Jack Egglestone and Jarcrew frontman-turned-FOTL-bassist Kelson Matthias proves formidable here as they rumble and strain at taut reins, lashing tough grooves to Falco’s ever-pointed (and catchy) caterwauling with dogged melodic purpose. As improbable as it might be, listening to “Curses” today, on the eve of its American release, asserts that every second of its 37 minutes is as good as and better than anything in those preceding bands’ catalogues. It is, in the simplest of terms, a fucking excellent album.

Of the many notable qualities in Future of the Left’s music and persona, it is Falkous’ knack for turning a phrase that most readily catches so many listeners. Capable of matching his music's sheer brutality with even the most parsimonious of spoken sentiments, his lyrics are alternately hilarious and horrifying- and often both at the same time. Yet Falkous has clarified time and again that his lyrics, while certainly the product of work and a refined craft, are often generated from near-random impulses of inspiration and may at times be separated from greater meaning by vast gulfs of syllabic dissonance. Some things merely sounded good at the time they were thought of apparently, and anyone who insists on attributing purpose to FOTL's non-sequiters is surely, to borrow a phrase, "an elephantine pedant."

But insisting that there are no bold statements in his paradiddles shouldn’t suggest that those excercises in language are totally without honest emotional content. While never really more than implied, the constant interplay of the personal and political more and more seems to me the origin of this band’s thrilling tension. This is, after all, a band whose very name evokes the uncertain path ahead for a group of their own self-identification since the Mclusky era. Still, I’m not fully sure if, in their hesitance to stake themselves to something weightier than simple criticism, Future of the Left could ever be the howling voice of anybody’s generation. Is this a band willing to appear representatives of a youth class that is both intelligent and angry at our times or instead merely intent to present themselves as driven to such alienation as to be willfully apathetic to them? I can’t tell if this band wants us to know that they have an agenda or not, and as this question had me driving myself crazy for the last two weeks, I eventually wondered: should it even matter either way?

And it is in this light that, as a statement of self-definition, “Curses” brings to mind almost no influence more prominently than George Orwell, whose own creativity was driven by dread-filled ruminations on a world in upheaval- on power, struggle and the multiple impending deaths that awaited everyone in those tribulations. One gets the unmistakable sense of both Orwell and Future of the Left that each produced their works from a similar place of intellectual terror. Orwell’s definition of tragedy was in those occasions when “…it is felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.” Future of the Left are precisely, if nothing else, a soundtrack to the feeling of being destroyed. Likewise, Orwell wrote that, in his own contentious time, man had sunk to a depth at which “…restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” If any common sentiment can be gleaned from the post-Xers regarding our modern condition, I’m not sure what you'd hear, but I'd believe that we’re actually all pretty pissed off about… well… everything. That’s why “Curses” is, even without named targets or an overt politicization, a listen that’s as cathartic as hell for feelings we don’t even really have to understand.

The most resonant art, throughout our centuries, adheres to the same basic principles of connection with its audience. We relate to expressed emotion on both cerebral and visceral levels. Ours are the generations destined to be defined by 9-11, George W. Bush, unfathomable genocide, religious terrorism, continental plagues, the post-Soviet capitalist vacuum and what we did and didn’t do when confronted with them. I wish Orwell was alive today. We need an Orwell to make sense of our world (and a Vonnegut too!) Since we don’t have them, we’ve got Future of the Left to gut out the no man’s land of our zeitgeist, applying the Ego’s voice to the Id’s sentiments at breakneck speeds, meted not by boundaries of taste for sparing we doomed the knowledge of our miserable fate. And given our state, it's all the more appreciable that they can deliver us with such diabolical a sense of gallows humor. But if you’re troubled by the silly crudeness of assertions like “Colin is a pussy! A very pretty pussy (cat),” remember that even the wisest among us once said that irreverence could be a most powerful instrument of liberation, that even dirty jokes are a sort of mental rebellion.


Hitt said...

Thanks for checking out Smokes Quantity's McLusky post. I like the enthusiasm you have for FOTL. What's with the picture of James Joyce though?

Brendan K. said...

Orwell once said, "Joyce is a poet- and also an elephantine pedant."