What's in a name?

Everything, when you've got good luck with a capital 'F'

Intercourse without love. That's how local KDGE-FM (94.5) disc jockey Josh Venable plans to introduce a certain band on his Sunday-night show, The Adventure Club, when he spins a song from the group's new record, Conduct. That, or a word scramble: "It has an F, a C, a K, and a U in it--just jumble the letters." The FCC might prick up its ears, but couldn't really do anything about it.

This is exactly the kind of obstacle--or promotion--the band Fuck was going for when it chose its name a little more than four years ago. Never mind that the bicoastal act sounds nothing like the expletive. Actually, its first full-length record, self-released three years ago with the title Pretty...Slow, was just that: pretty songs, played pretty slowly. Since then, Fuck has put out another self-release and two albums on Matador, and through it all, the band's original anti-image has stuck: scant photos, no available biographical info on the members, no videos, and a sound so passive that if you don't strain to listen, you'll miss it entirely.

Fourteen of the 17 tracks on Conduct are so restful and detached, they're just this side of ambient, a style that may earn the band enough insider distinction to join the ranks of other groups with singular pop aesthetics--Pavement, Palace, and Smog. The music more often than not carries the unsettling feeling of a punch line to a joke we don't know, or the schizoid rambling of a friend who checked his emotions at the door. Yet the band's name more often than not keeps that music out of record stores, off the radio, and even out of rock venues--or at least keeps the moniker off club marquees when the band is booked to play. Theirs is an uneasy alliance between image factions, striking a self-annihilation akin to matter meeting anti-matter: It's punk-rock attitude without revolution, fuzzy-sweater indie rock without shoegazing or apologetic angst. This is an anti-band.

"We're definitely a democratic band," says Tim Prudhomme, the Manhattan-based member of the otherwise Bay Area-based act. "We vote on everything, and we don't always agree." He's referring to such Fuck ploys as withholding photographs: The picture on this page is the only official band photo for the promotion of Conduct, and it exists only because Matador forced the issue. "That's one of the label obligations. So we sent it in."

Prudhomme, mainly a guitarist, shares duties with the West Coast contingent: Geoff Soule, Ted Ellison, and Kyle Statham--all known for randomly switching instruments. When asked the members' ages, Prudhomme says, "Most people are described by three things: sex, race, and age. We try to avoid describing ourselves in such terms." He's about half-serious. (Pictured here are four white males in their 20s and 30s. Quelle surprise.)

Add to that the near impossibility of discerning which member was responsible for each song, a far cry from glory-chasing. All four members write and three of them sing, but they don't credit themselves on the CD sleeve. "There's plenty of confusion about that," Prudhomme says. "Even my girlfriend will listen to the tape and not know which songs I've written." Generally, each member sings his own songs, and while Prudhomme insists the songs on Conduct aren't grouped according to songwriter, they bleed from one track to the next until the disc nearly sounds like a three-act drama. After a maverick, Pixies-like opener called "The Thing," songs two through nine carry a thematic, sleepy-yet-loopy quality; tracks 10 through 14 show a more experimental, waggish side; and the record finishes up with a trio of sibling songs, each an opium-laced mini-flood. Not one lasts more than three minutes.

"You mention that grouping," Prudhomme says, "but I know for sure the last three songs are by three different people. We just all think alike. It's nice--we don't worry about having a split audience."

He claims the band's sound hasn't changed much over time, but the differences between Conduct and the band's previous record, 1997's Pardon My French, are clear, at least if you lean in and cup your ear. The well-mannered Pardon My French is essentially 16 tracks of self-indulgent politeness--like a spacey, self-absorbed stranger who remembers to smile when he shakes your hand. It also introduced a growing following to the band's ability to pen great hooks, albeit reluctantly; "Dirty Brunette" and "To My Gurl" showed off an ear-pleasing pop sensibility. Thing is, even though it can, Fuck doesn't visit such an obvious place very often, and on that album, it never lets the listener catch and hold a mood. It's every song for itself, creating a delicate bigger picture that threatens to shatter into slippery fragments.

"The new record is more upbeat," Prudhomme asserts, though a few listens tell a different story. All those idle, quirky tracks, when piled back-to-back, create a warmer cohesion than any passage on Pardon. So often a few interweaving guitars, a spare snare, and a languid bass line support a mere implication of a vocal line. What sounds like a single singer throughout is actually three different drugged voices, each one so buried and lax, it seems whoever is standing at the microphone must be propping himself against the wall, barely shrugging off the threat of passing out from sheer exhaustion or boredom.

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