Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
As usual the Welsh combo have made the year’s best album, says ANDREW P STREET.
Some reviewers would think twice before writing yet another review of their favourite band in which they argue that they’ve just made the album of their career. That’s especially true when they know that said band are probably not facing down a sudden popular renaissance four albums in, since that reviewer would just sound one-eyed and irrelevant. Then again, when did a music writer ever not sound one-eyed and irrelevant?
So, fuck it: Future of the Left’s How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident is the best record they’ve ever made, which makes it the best album ever made by humans. That’s just science.
Now, as someone who’s covered FOTL since their 2005 inception for a number of publications, I emphasise that I stand by everything I said about their last disc, The Plot Against Common Sense: it was too long, a bit patchy, and ‘Beneath The Waves An Ocean’ was and is still the greatest song ever written. Prior to that I wrote that its predecessor, the rockin’ Travels With Myself and Another, was the best album ever made. And that their debut Curses was superior to anything done by Mclusky, the power trio that was home to drummer Jake Eggleston and singer/guitarist/songwriter Andrew Falkous, despite that band being the best band that had ever existed up until that point. I am nothing, dear reader, if not consistent.
It’s now clear that Plot was the settling-in album for FOTL’s second lineup, where Falkous and Eggleston were joined by bassist Julia Ruzicka and second guitarist Jimmy Watkins. It immediately opened the band up from its previous trio setup and was an exciting – if occasionally overambitious – showcase of how different the band could be.
“The best album ever made by humans. That’s just science”
So it’s significant that the first thing that they do on How to Stop Your Brain is show they can do what they used to do, only so much better. ‘Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow’ is pretty much a straight-ahead rewriting of early single ‘Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood’ except with even more stop-start rhythms, an actual chorus (with a vocal melody that’s pure Faith No More-era Mike Patton) and a big right-turn coda.
And that’s the biggest difference with the new album: the band sound both comfortable and confident enough to nod to their musical past. Swaggering lead single ‘The Male Gaze’ has Falkous spitting every syllable in his double-tracked bark as per Mclusky, matched with sweet falsetto “ooooh!” vocals before the song switches direction into a sweetly melodic indie-pop song. Meanwhile the first half of ‘How To Spot A Record Company’ lacks only Jon Chapple’s demented backing roar to be pure mclusky punk fury as Falkous howls “Teenage me is disappointed / in the fucked-up record buying public”.
Meanwhile the spoken word ‘The Singing of the Bonesaws’ sees the band create a sinister vamp (imagine if Satan decided he wanted his own Elvis-style ‘See See Rider’ intro music and you’re on the right track) over which Falkous adopts a plummy BBC accent to decry popular culture, including the description of Kim Kardashian fleeing a bear for a proposed MTV series. It’s one of the album’s most outright comedic moments and it works because it’s not just laugh-out-loud funny but also legitimately unsettling.
‘French Lessons’ is a bass-led ballad with echoes of Mclusky’s ‘Fuck This Band’ (which FOTL have covered live), contrasting with the discordant guitars of the brilliantly named ‘I Don’t Know What You Ketamine (But I Think I Love You)’. The breakneck kazoo-punk of ‘Things To Say To Friendly Policemen’ disproves Robert Forster’s assertion that the second-to-last song on an album is always the weakest – not least because it ends with the Morrissey-baiting question “how soon is not?”
Speaking of which, Falkous is in typically memorable form on the lyrics. Favourites include “I got satsumas as payment in kind” (‘The Male Gaze’), “In 1987 he had pharaoh’s hair” (‘Donny of the Decks’), and “I’m reading you like a pamphlet / That I picked up from an idiot / On a unicycle in a town square” (‘French Lessons’).
(Parenthetically, it’s worth grabbing the ‘Love Songs for our Husbands’ EP which contains ‘The Male Gaze’ and three excellent tracks recorded for the album and shrewdly left off the final tracklist. They’re all great, especially the thundering down-tuned riffery of ‘The Bisexuality of Distance’, but would definitely have weighed the album down.)
The oddest song is the last one: a bluesy monotone acoustic slide number entitled ‘Why Aren’t I Going To Hell?’, building to a massed harmony sing-n-strumalong. It ends the album with all the abruptness of falling off a cliff, which seems appropriate since you’ll be following it with the cannon blast that is the opening of ‘Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow’ again. And again. And again.