As one of the more enigmatic bands working today, Fucked Up is perhaps best understood via the vast array of singles they’ve released over the years. Let’s face it: Fucked Up’s albums can be hard to digest in single sittings. The songs are all grand in scope, the music relentlessly intense, and the lyrics obscure. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can often force one to throw in the towel before the final bell. The band’s singles, on the other hand, are brutal knock-outs. While a compilation does undermine, somewhat, the impact these songs might have had in their original format, and certainly makes them less of a commodity, they still capture the band in its ideal context. Couple Tracks—a double LP/ CD on Matador—is the band’s second singles collection and comprises ultra-rare cuts from a variety of sources, spanning the years 2002 to 2009. It offers an excellent encapsulation and sheds light on a group that largely cloaked itself in anonymity and mystery.
While Fucked Up’s recent crossover success—records on the aforementioned Matador label, Fox News appearances and New York Times articles, collabos with the GZA and Vampire Weekend—might seem like an anomaly, a cursory listen to the band’s extensive catalog suggests that it actually makes quite a bit of sense. At its core this is a band that clearly loves its hooks. Songs such as “I Hate Summer,” “Generation,” and “Triumph of Life” are user-friendly anthems that can be enjoyed by anyone with even a mild tolerance for distorted guitars and harsh vocals. And while the band’s bloody, belligerent exterior might be intimidating on the surface, Fucked Up is dedicated to the wide embrace of community. If this collection reveals anything about the group’s success and longevity (while they’re no Agnostic Front just yet, for a hardcore band they’re going fairly strong), it’s that they can be many different things to many different people, while maintaining a singular sound and vision. Though never expressly political in terms of ideology, a social conscience lurks, as evidenced by the 2002 Spanish Civil War–inspired "No Pasaran." Yes, they’re provocative (how could a band called Fucked Up not be?), but there’s a self-reflexive sense of humor a work too: “Ban Violins” baits the very indie pretension to chamber arrangements that the band would later indulge on The Chemistry of Common Life. And just as 10,000 Marbles and crew are capable of no-chaser hardcore fury (as on “Fixed Race”), they can likewise cover the Shop Assistants, Dolly Mixture and Another Sunny Day.
Couple Tracks seizes on these dichotomies and captures Fucked Up in all of its multi-faceted glory. Epics in Minutes, the band’s previous singles set, offers the more trad side of the band’s approach; Couple Tracks posits that while punk and hardcore form the basis of Fucked Up’s sound, much to the members’ collective credit, they’ve never been beholden to it. There must be some rule about using three boxing clichés in a single album review, but what the hell: The sets make for a definitive one-two punch.