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In the early to mid-2000s, Fucked Up and Career Suicide were cousin groups in the Toronto punk scene. They performed together and shared members Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk, and each sounded inspired by the lurch and throttle of 1980s American hardcore. But Career Suicide skewed bratty (sampling punk sendup Repo Man) where Fucked Up went didactic (sampling anti-fascist speeches). And on albums released in 2006, their paths sharply diverged: Fucked Up’s expansive Hidden World foreshadowed the musical ingenuity and conceptual bombast to come, while Career Suicide’s reverent hardcore sounded more bracingly combustible than ever on Attempted Suicide.
Machine Response, Career Suicide’s first release since 2008 (aside from a prelude EP of the same name that appeared late last year), shows the rewards of their craftsman-like commitment to a familiar form—hardcore not as a template to expand, or as a style to flee, but as a sort of aspirational ideal. That means the songs are punchy and concise, animated by Falco’s blocky riffs and Martin Farkas’ breathless bark. And it means that though the album careens in expected ways, its delight is akin to watching the staged implosion of a skyscraper: spectacular for its expenditure of energy in the service of wreckage, and no less impressive for occurring right on schedule.
Unusually stirring hardcore is more often ramshackle, the result of expression outpacing skill. Experienced players, meanwhile, frequently sacrifice individual personality to cultivate a sense of imposing might; that’s why so much self-consciously extreme hardcore sounds so antiseptic. Machine Response, however, slots into neither category. The band members manage to give highlights such as “Tighten the Screws” and “Break Away” a palpable groove, to swing despite inhospitably brisk tempos. They animate eleven songs in a style that, what with its limited vocabulary, usually lends itself to sets of four or five.
It’s a somewhat contradictory position: exercise creative invention, but mind the strictures of what Machine Response’s promotional material calls “purist hardcore.” Not all of the songs adhere: A bleating horn on the mid-tempo “Taking You With Me” evokes Rocket From the Crypt, while the sauntering gait and singsong refrain of “No Walls, No Curtains” sound indebted to late-1970s punk. They don’t undermine the album, just the band’s professed purity. For Falco, who writes the music, it’s tempting to view Career Suicide’s formal conservatism as a respite from the mercurial whims of Fucked Up.
Still, in certain circles, a new Career Suicide is more exciting than a new Fucked Up album. (Farkas supposed, in a recent interview, that the bands hardly share listeners anymore.) This has a lot to do with how critics tacitly devalue hardcore. The style is appreciated, even fetishized, as a background from which bands progress and deemed noteworthy once left behind. It’s a paternalistic idea keeps hardcore locked in the past and illegitimate in the present. Career Suicide’s Machine Response is one brazen rebuttal to all of that, a swaggering wager on a simple style’s enduring, essential thrills.Share