Monday, May 11, 2009

The Futureheads. The Futureheads (679/Sire, 2005)

"If the least you can do is show some restraint/ Then the most you can do is get carried away."

Every once in a while, an album comes along that makes you thank your head for having ears. An album so raucous, joyous, and undeniably ace that its greatness cannot be easily dismissed. It's a good thing when those albums make it into the world, and I can testify, on pain of death, that the Futureheads' 2005 self-titled debut is just such an album. It's as propulsive, perspiring, and savagely melodic as post-punk has gotten in the last ten years, at least (when was the last Fugazi album, anyway?).

The Futureheads hail from Sunderland, on England's east coast, and seem whole-heartedly committed to furthering the UK's reputation for tuneful clatter. Having initially sprung from the City College of Sunderland, the band slowly amassed a rep for brilliance over the course of the early aughts, perfecting their approach and polishing their chops to a high sheen. By 2003 or so, the band had settled into their current line-up (Ross Millard: guitar/vocals, Jaff Craig: bass/vocals, Dave Hyde: drums/vocals, and Barry Hyde: guitar/lead vocals), and were poised to conquer.

And their 2005 debut was an astounding triumph. The LP is almost impossibly focused, teeming with good ideas and infectious melodies, held up and pushed along by a rhythm section bent on destruction and boasting the skills to carry through. Tight is the name of the game, and each song is damn near waterproof, displaying an astounding command of composition, timing, and precision belligerence. The Futureheads' layered sound, with multiple vocal and instrumental lines intersecting and colliding, strikes the right balance between complex and fun, complicated and accomplished.

The quartet's clearest touchstones are Fugazi, early XTC, and Gang of Four. In fact, Gang of Four's Andy Gill produced several tracks on the album, coaxing the legendarily danceable agitpunker's influence to the forefront, emphasizing edgy propulsion and caustic, barbed guitars. That said, melodically the Futureheads are far more lush than Gang of Four ever were, laying rich vocal arrangements over the punchy, wound-up playing.

"Le Garage" opens the album on gentle chimes; soon enough, though, jumpy, martial snare hits set the tempo and flurries of frantic, distorted strums take the track from pretty to pretty abrasive. It provides an excellent first impression, nicely showing off the group's fearsome capabilities for toothsome pop and fearsome riffage.

Track after track lives up to the promise of "Le Garage." "Robot" bounces and seethes, "A to B" piles rigid chording behind multipart vocal harmonies brilliantly, and "Decent Days And Nights" slashes holes in your speakers with its saber-like central riffs. The pounding kick drums of "Meantime" prop up the fret-melting guitar work, as Hyde sneers hilariously, "And you thought that I was joking/ When I said you were a moron/ When I said it I was smiling/ So you'd think that I was joking." "Alms" rides waves of overdrive and pinballing guitar counterpoints, while the post-punk a capella of "Danger Of The Water" sounds like an accident waiting to happen but ends up being a luminous showcase of these guys' vocal abilities. Undiluted blitzkrieg bop, "Carnival Kids" is an arms-aloft gem, rushing, breathless, and radiant.

When this album first came out, the Futureheads garnered a lot of attention for their cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds Of Love," and rightfully so: the group transforms Bush's synth-damaged vamp into an amphetamine-and-panic driven anthem, adding muscle and bluster but retaining the haunting, romantic aspects that make the song memorable. The way Hyde exclaims, "Help me, someone/ Help me please!" as the band blasts away behind him is effing incredible, conveying desperation and terror effortlessly, lending the song new found urgency and fire.

I've liked the LPs the Futureheads have released since their debut, but for me they perfected their sound the first time out. Nothing since has sounded as hungry or as sharp as this, as effortlessly in focus. The Futureheads is straight genius, drawing from all the right source material while adding a healthy dash of fresh ideas, lending itself to repeat listens and endless admiration.

The Futureheads