Gail Butensky

Before a group of metal-schooled, post-punk-bred young American men came around in the early 1990s to smelt a solid sheet of polyrhythmic guitar and percussion abuse, "math rock" referred to an algebraic approach to adding up a band's sound. Like any scientific speculation, it has its flaws, but there are a few equations on which you can bank: Anita Baker + Chaka Khan = Macy Gray; Square Pegs / New Order = Ladytron; Usher + Dennis Rodman = Sisqo; Echo - Bunnymen = Badly Drawn Boy; Crystal Gayle x (Tennille - Captain) = Faith Hill; Low / Nick Lowe = Nick Drake; Georgia Satellites + Almost Famous = Black Crowes. Just do the math.

By the same logic, the working theorem for Oakland-formed, presently bicoastal quartet Fuck has always seemed an amalgamation of a number of different, better known indie acts, such that Fuck = (Truman's Water + Pavement) divided by (Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 + Red Red Meat). Since debuting with a couple of seven-inch singles in 1994 and on through its indie-rock benchmark LP, 1997's Pardon My French (released on indie-rock bench Matador), Fuck has dabbled in lyrical sleight of hand, hanging its wordplay on fragile, ornate guitar lines. Occasionally, the band let loose a blast of tongue-in-cheek rock, but for the most part, it's dispensed plaintive, lovely tunes that rock critics love to label "countryish." It's a working maxim that's all over the soon-to-be-released compilation CD, Gold Bricks, a collection of material recorded from 1993-2000. The album reveals that Fuck was as irony prone as any outfit in the post-grunge era, either by toying with rock's past--as it does with its Rolling Stones' cover, "She's a Rainbow"--or diving straight into faux pop-cult worship ("Mighty Mouse, Sir") and sardonic smirks ("Me So Horny").

But with its latest album proper, Cupid's Cactus, Fuck embraces its country outright, eliminating any cynical distance in its songs that's always kept sincerity at bay. Recorded partly in California and also in Memphis with Doug Easley at the board, Cactus is as close to an old-school country album as Fuck's ever attempted. It's a mood that's not so much set by the music itself--as with previous efforts, Cactus is a subtle affair, though Easley's production lends it an organic warmth. What makes it tear-in-the-beer country, however, is its songs of despair and, even more dour, accepting that turn in life's journey. The minimal verses of "Panties Off" paint a solemn picture of a prostitute's hard-edged modesty. The jaunty beat of "High" swings into romantic lows, leading into the misguided love story of "Someday Aisle." And in "Glass Charms," a woman ever more casually examines her romantic situation as she drinks, imagining "the life she knows that she let go" when she took up with her current flame. It may be a down-tempo affair from a group of guys who have always trafficked their sideways sentiments, but it's also a stark statement by a band that's finally coming into its own.

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