Future of the Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident (Prescriptions Music)
Available 28th October 2013
9 out of 10
The ferocious Welsh rock band are back with their fourth album, ‘… a state of the nation record for a nation in a state.’ Bert Random listens in.
By the time they’ve reached their fourth album most bands are burnt out husks, either swilling around in the fruits of hypersuccess with addled eyes and no sense of restraint, or alternatively trudging dead eyed around their home town hanging on by their fingertips to whatever joy they once found in songs that were only ever competent at best. It’s a great relief to say that Future of the Left have somehow avoided either of these fates and have instead delivered a heavy, sinewy, and strangely joyful record with their new album How To Stop Your Brain In the Case of an Accident.
Recorded over the summer of 2013 (in between day jobs and gigs) and funded by a pledge campaign that covered their recording costs in less than 5 hours and ultimately raised two and a half times as much as they’d hoped, this record bristles with the feeling that this really is what they want to be writing, singing, and playing, beholden to no one other than themselves – certainly not beholden to any old tosser from a two bit record company with delusions of grandeur and ears of clay. It’s a state of the nation record for a nation in a state.
And it really is a record rather than an atomised collection of songs. The juxtaposition and transition from song to song genuinely makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts; it deserves repeated listens and rewards them with light and shade in all the right places at just the right times.
Listeners who have followed lead singer/guitarist Andrew Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone through their earlier career with Peel favourites Mclusky, and the earlier Future Of The Left excursions in league with bassist Julia Ruzicka and guitarist Jimmy Watkins, will be reassured by the crunching gusto of opening tune Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow and the razor sharp snark of the next one, Jonny Borrell Afterlife (Sample lyric: “Just a boy with the biggest head in school…”).
Four songs in – The Male Gaze taking a buzzsaw detour through sexual politics – and you might think that all we have here is a good Future Of The Left record: songs that carry a big punch and will sound great live, just what we were expecting. But then strange things start to happen.
It begins with Singing of the Bonesaws, which sounds like an alternate universe version of The Fall, fronted by Peter Hitchens after a mescaline fuelled coup where he ate Mark E. Smith before taking over the band. This upper middle class preacher version of (I presume) Falkous on vocals is unsettling, and not just because of the cartoon-horror of the text gleefully being recited; something about the clipped delivery feels wrong, fighting as it does against the sparse music and occasional surprising harmonies. It’s a weird, compelling song, the kind you replay several times when you first hear it, just to be sure you haven’t imagined it all.
Bonesaws kicks off a fantastic stretch of songs, full of hilarious lyrics such as this from She Gets Passed Around At Parties –
Halfway to the hospital Matthew put his clothes on
He didn’t want to be that guy who turns up with his balls out
Drinking from an empty can and bleeding on the nurses
He rushed into the parking lot and fell beneath an ambulance.
There’s plenty of writhing rock music that draws many comparisons. Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Half Man Half Biscuit all spring to mind but none of them quite capture everything that is going on here. It’s the kind of record where your favourite moments keep changing from day to day; right this moment I particularly love the distorted drums at the beginning of Donny on the Decks, (a tale of a small town DJ and hats you can wear indoors and pregnant groupies, all delivered in a song that somehow combines punk-a-billy with a techno sensibility), but tomorrow it will be something else that makes me smile.
And among all this throat ripping punk art weird rock nestles a love song. Or rather a song about love, an unironic, unsarcastic, piano and picked guitars take on a song about love. French Lessons dissolves into surreal repetition about metaphors at the end, tells stories about pissed puking into disabled toilets, and makes sure it insults twats who do circus busking along the way, but it starts with its heart on its sleeve and gives a fascinating glimpse of a different dimension where Future Of The Left took another path years ago and somewhere are writing stadium-filling anthems and taking themselves far too seriously. But they aren’t, thankfully, and even though it is done straight ‘French Lessons’ has an undercurrent of oddity that will prevent it being co-opted by a pony tailed ad executive. The opening lines alone are just immaculate:
They say the price of love is a black hole
Where your friends were/ Where your social life sits
Pulled into a chasm of family engagements and trips to the garden centre
That is true enough if you choose it or it chooses you
I forget which.
It’s also another beneficiary of the fantastic sequencing, with its final delicate strains being bounced out of the way by the vitriolic How to Spot A Record Company and it’s immense shouted lament “Guys in bands are disappointed with the fucked up record buying public/ Teenage me is disappointed in the fucked-up record buying public”. Almost every song has something to recommend it – the kazoo chorus on Things To Say To a Friendly Policeman for example, or the Tom Waitesesque vocal on album closer Why Aren’t I Going To Hell – and it all adds up to a fantastic piece of work.
The record sounds great, in the basic craft and skill involved in making it (the guitars are crisp or crunchy when they need to be, the bass is heavy and heady, the drums solid or gentle as required) but also with that intangible sense that everyone is fully there, everyone is on the crest of the same musical wave, all just holding it together. At one time or another in their existence, all great bands sound like a gang, even if really they hate each other, and here Future Of The Left really do sound like a proper gang, like they would fight for each other and for their songs. And that unity of purpose runs through the record like a 1970s West Indies pace attack through a huddle of England tail enders. They say it’s their best record yet and I wouldn’t argue with them.