by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
Within 10 seconds of “Upset Army,” the opening track from Love Letters in the Age of Steam, you know you are well in the domain of Andrew Falkous (Falco). The loud, screeching wail of the guitars, the chord changes that make one uneasy though they can’t say why, and the distorted snarling snark sneered into the microphone are all sign posts that you’re in the hands of the Future of the Left frontman.
Love Letters in the Age of Steam is the second album from Christian Fitness, the side project Falco started after finding himself without a day job. I am Scared of Everything That Isn’t Me, the first album put out last year, is a fun listen with the feel of an artist branching out and experimenting with no pressure. Love Letters on the other hand is a locked in whirlwind, focused and on mission. It’s a lean, quick, surgical strike that finds Falco writing some of his catchiest songs yet. There might even be a little bit of heart underneath all the trademark cynicism. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes the album shoots out of the gate with the first three tracks that come in and assault your ears before you’ve even had a chance to get to know one another. The needle is firmly in the red with the guitars and vocals sounding dangerously close to blowing out your speakers and your soul. It will all feel like a settling into a comfy chair for those familiar with Falco’s other work.
“The Good Sword” is where the album starts to show it’s distinct personality. “But who needs commitments? We are the only future. Everything should be happening now” Falco tells us. Whether the song is for or against that sentiment I leave for smarter people than I. I do know that the song contains an extremely fun and catchy chorus. Simple in it’s design, the falsetto syncopation will firmly lodge in your brain as Falco sings “Undisciplined, com-pet-ing with your manners.”
“3 Speed Limiters” is the centerpiece of the album and possibly my favorite Christian Fitness song to date. At just three minutes the track stomps and grooves and leaves me wanting to drive a car at top speed on a highway littered with trigger warnings and screen shots of deleted incendiary tweets. Who are the limiters? I take it as a song against those who would limit any number of things: speech, imagination, operators against the status quo. Wind them up and find them out the chorus commands. “It’s very very nice in the townships after all” Falco sing-songs as a synth comes in, its sci-fi sound undercutting the sentiment as if saying it’s anything but nice.
The album closes with the longest song on the album, “The Psychic Reader.” This is the song were I dare to hear hope. It has the feel of being fed up, but not entirely discouraged. “Our dreams are far too middle class” the jaded minstrel proclaims. Dream bigger? Dream for something other than a life of settling in the burbs with our stunted ideals and a fridge full of diet coke? “The rioters are slipping away, but someone is still burning the money.” It all has the feel of a hymn sung by the resistance to the Brave New World.
Funny, catchy, and extremely satisfying on a rock level, Love Letters in the Age of Steam is a record that should be on your hard drive and in your ears. Those eagerly awaiting the next Future of the Left record will find more than enough here to tide them over. It’s work that can stand on its own and showcases that Falco is one of our most original and important songwriters working today. It’s a record that hasn’t left my ears in some time and I find that the harder it hits, the harder I’m humbled.