Fourteen tracks of pure atomic fury and scalpel-sharp lyrics from the UK's most underrated rock band
So here it is: the stunning and unexpected return to top form of the UK’s most criminally underrated rock band. It’s a surprise, because not since their 2007 debut ‘Curses’ have Cardiff rockers Future Of The Left sounded this thrilling. Where last year’s disappointing third album ‘The Plot Against Common Sense’ was characterised by tongue-in-cheek silliness and fussy arrangements, the follow-up ‘How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident’ is direct and heavy as hell – as it should be. It is a serious album for serious rock fans, even though taking anything seriously isn’t exactly Andy Falkous, Jack Egglestone, Jimmy Watkins and Julia Ruzicka’s strong point.
The power of ‘How To Stop Your Brain…’ can be partly attributed to the welcome return of British rock’s toughest and most acidic guitar sound. A hangover from frontman Falkous’ nine years in Mclusky, the sound in question is less like a guitar and more like some mutant strain of power electronics. It was, across their previous two albums, slowly being phased out of FOTL’s DNA. But here it is again, broken down into 14 thumps of pure atomic fury, and the result is something like the strangest and sorest funk music imaginable.
Setting the tone, opener ‘Bread, Cheese, Bow And Arrow’ is a study in extreme minimalist rock, and Falkous’ lyric “I’m just a man: a simple thing” is the perfect introduction to the album’s rawness. Purged of the vocal harmonies, kitschy organ and sing-song melodies that cluttered the band’s increasingly soft sound, all that’s left is three and a bit minutes of coiled tension and measured violence: a focused, post-hardcore give-and-take between space and roar, restraint and face-melting release.
The album continues in the same vein with ‘Future Child Embarrassment Matrix’ and ‘I Don’t Know What You Ketamine’ – the former a doom-rock juggernaut with a heavy acceleration in pace, the latter resembling an industrial retread of ‘Small Bones, Small Bodies’ from ‘Curses’. ‘She Gets Passed Around At Parties’, meanwhile, is pure late-’80s American post-punk – a danceable blend of clipped bass and crunchy power riffs.
All this back-to-basics songcraft will be like the Second Coming for fans of early Future Of The Left, but the poor saps will shit a conker when it comes to ‘Things To Say To Friendly Policemen’. A bratty two minutes of hyper-speed noise-punk complete with a kazoo-powered chorus, it brings Mclusky’s 2002 classic ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ immediately to mind.
Elsewhere ‘The Real Meaning Of Christmas’ and ‘The Male Gaze’ change things up without compromising the album’s hard-nosed tone, and add indie and melodic college rock to the mix. Then there’s ‘French Lessons’, FOTL’s first foray into balladry. Equally surprising is ‘How To Spot A Record Company’ – which, with its Siouxsie guitar flourishes and spooky progressions, is basically goth-rock.
Though ‘Singing Of The Bonesaws’ – with Falko feigning a posh English accent – recalls the weak and irritating silliness of their last album, as usual the frontman’s acerbic lyrics are a blast as he skewers the most preposterous aspects of modern British culture with the kind of scalpel-sharp precision not seen since Jarvis Cocker. But more importantly, against the impossibly evil sonic backdrop, his devilish barbs have never sounded so delicious.