On the Jovial Ferocity of Future of the Left
So it seems perfectly logical to ask Andy "Falco" Falkous, profoundly intimidating and brutally hilarious lead screamer/ranter/executioner for Cardiff snark-punk trio Future of the Left, to elaborate on the sentiment that drives "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You," a particularly violent and quixotic number from the band's new CD, Travels With Myself and Another. It is equally logical, from his perspective, to insist that it's all pretty self-explanatory.
"The song is about a man trying to balance his everyday life with an attempt to devoutly celebrate Satan in terms of blood orgies, Satanic masses, whatever," he explains, matter-of-factly, chatting via Skype. "It's quite literal, really, in the sense that without your love and devotion, Satan still exists in the abstract," whereas you—if, for whatever reason, denied the love of Satan—may not. (Or the love of anyone, really—Falco adds that the song's message is not necessarily exclusive to "the horned one, Beelzebub.")
The central tenet behind Falco's songwriting—both with FOTL and his previous band, the equally pithy and malevolent Mclusky—seems to involve firing off cracked manifestos, foul oaths, sardonic one-liners, and idle boasts so bizarre and viciously funny that your subsequent state of incapacitating confusion/amusement makes it much easier for him to sneak up and decapitate you. The blunt-force trauma of Mclusky's 2002 mini-masterwork "To Hell With Good Intentions," a skeletal, concussive monstrosity of pummeling bass/drums, shrill guitar stabs, and increasingly unhinged shrieking, is leavened by the opening declaration, "My love is bigger than your love/We take more drugs than a touring funk band/Sing it," among the most poignant mission statements of the past decade.
Two albums in, standing alongside longtime drummer/co-conspirator Jack Egglestone and singer/bassist Kelson Mathias, Falco's new gig has ramped up both the hostility and the absurdity. Consider Travels highlight "The Hope That House Built," a cynically depraved marching anthem, led by Falco in the maliciously flamboyant psychotic-carnival-barker style of Jello Biafra, with a chorus of "Come join, come join our hopeless cause/Come join, come join our lost cause." Very rueful. "In terms of that song, it's not meant to be literal," he explains. "But it is, conversely, it is quite sincere—we do believe ourselves to be a hopeless cause. . . . That song is about failure, but it's about celebrating failure."
Falco is an outwardly brusque but genuinely thoughtful sort, disinclined to actually physically cause the havoc and bloodshed that his music suggests, though he does enjoy the tough-guy reputation that causes dudes who heckle him at shows to run away, sometimes out of the venue entirely, when he jumps into the crowd to respond. (An entirely verbal response, in all likelihood. "We play with the aggression of our music," he notes. "But for the most part, we're not generally aggressive people.") He enjoys robust audience interaction, actually, and can provide elaborate geographical analysis on the subject: Australians are enthusiastic, but inarticulate (prone to just shouting out sports statistics, etc.), whereas Americans are jaded, somewhat immobile, but pleasingly erudite in their propensity for heckling.
As his band is primarily a U.K. entity and thus accustomed to the outdoor-festival racket, Falco has no great fears about tackling the Voice's own Siren Festival, despite the early set times ("It is less ideal that you have to adjust and start drinking a lot earlier") and surfeit of direct sunlight ("Even we British like a bit of vitamin D from time to time"). His subsequent blog post detailing his adventures at Coney Island should be wildly entertaining. Recent Falco rants (most compiled on FOTL's MySpace page) have addressed the rather wan scene at this year's South by Southwest, the unscrupulous jerkoff(s) who leaked Travels online several months early, and the fanboys who incessantly badger him about what it's like to work with Steve Albini. He has, to put it mildly (as he so rarely does), a way with words: "Next time somebody tells me that I can't drink my rider in the building I'm playing in, I'm going to fuck them with their own shoes."
Future of the Left's songs benefit from both the wit and the savagery at play here, as evidenced by song titles alone: "Throwing Bricks at Trains," "adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood," and timeless Mclusky classics like "The World Loves Us and Is Our Bitch," etc. Though they're often imbued with a Brit-centric specificity, you'll always get the point; even those without intimate knowledge of the nation's rural-fetishizing Countryside Alliance can thoroughly enjoy the bass-heavy dirge "Fuck the Countryside Alliance" (from 2007 FOTL debut Curses!), if only because it has the word "fuck" in the title. As emo enthusiasts are well aware, this sort of thing can become a loathsome crutch, but Falco is ever-vigilant: "I am always conscious about the titles, that the titles evoke a certain mindset without being completely ridiculous," he insists. " 'Stand by Your Manatee' [which seems to address the social stigma of eating with plastic cutlery] is as goofy as we get, but I still like it."
The delivery system, for all this cleverness and ferocity, hasn't changed much from the Mclusky days: oft-two-minute blasts of cheerfully abrasive noise-punk, actual pop hooks sometimes haphazardly emerging from the shards of broken bone/glass, multiple irate vocal tracks goading and amplifying each other, tarted up lately with occasional stabbing, surly keyboards, and the very occasional acoustic guitar, which introduces a lovely false-calm dynamic to maniacal Travels closer "Lapsed Catholics" ("Lapsed Catholics are the worst," goes its final, visceral, unending refrain), innovations that might be off-putting to some of Falco's longtime enthusiasts, but, well, fuck 'em. "It's irrelevant what old fans or old bands think," he says. "If anything, it makes it more exciting to push it away from those people."
Let's reiterate that neither Falco nor his band are quite as unremittingly hostile as they might seem: As a listener, you vacillate between worrying that you're laughing when you should be quaking in fear, or vice versa, but that would be taking this all a bit too seriously, maybe. "I don't think that we're terrifying," he says. "Our music has a certain anger, but to me—speaking personally—to me, it's an energy as opposed to anger as such. Obviously, there are things that make me angry, but I'm not, unless someone deliberately invites my ire, I'm not a particularly angry person. Playing live for me isn't a catharsis, a change to get out my demons. It's a joy."
The guy onstage Sunday night at tiny Williamsburg club Spike Hill—the severe gentleman with a scythe-sharp widow's peak who's bashing his guitar and screaming all sorts of uncouth unpleasantries—does not seem joyful in the traditional sense. But Future of the Left are nonetheless thoroughly enjoying themselves, their demonic aggression offset by smirking between-song banter about Michael Jackson, the venue's apparent fish-smell, and some overzealous fans in the front row ("Look at you freaky little bitches dancing," Falco observes. "It's like a Red Hot Chili Peppers show"). Climactically, Mathias jumps down into the crowd with his bass to grab a few hats and steal a few beers, while Falco twirls his guitar around by the strap. They can switch instantly from playing around to not playing around at all. The set peaks, of course, with "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You," featuring a throat-shredding climactic chant of "It doesn't look like a man/It doesn't talk like a man/But does it fuck like a man?/But does it fuck like a man?" There is no need to elaborate.
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