0003000818_10The name most often applied to the music of Andrew Falkous, be it in Mclusky, Future of the Left or his most recent semi-solo project Christian Fitness, is noise rock. For my money, the images and suggestions that “noise rock” invoke are not a fitting description but, when squinting, the tag makes some kind of sense.

After all, this is a dude who has chosen the heaviness of metal without its specific kind of manic attention to obsessive to technical mastery, the aggression of hardcore without any of it’s subtle optimism or anthem-y qualities. Falkous’ creates cynical little galaxies in which we have already lost, where we must take our refuge in wit and barbs against our captors, knowing that it will not change them or free us. It is hard music, to be sure, but there is always a plan, always an escape hatch.

It might be more fitting to say that Falkous’ music is an experiment in making the most abrasive pop music possible. If you accept that premise, Christian Fitness’ Love Letters in the Age of Steam is a master class in the effort to give catchy music as many spines as possible.

I’ll admit that when I am forced to come up with a comparative difference between Future of the Left and Christian Fitness, I fall short. Falkous has said in interviews that one of the main divergences is live performance; Future of the Left songs are written with live recreation in mind, Christian Fitness songs are not. I understand that conceptually, but since both bands are built around chugging, deeply-heavy riffs and Falkous’ trademark lyrical style (which is basically him telling the listener a very compelling, very funny joke that one laughs at but only he really gets), it can be difficult to draw that line.

No matter. The key to understanding all this is that Falkous wants to make ear worms. He wants you to sing along, to dance, to nod your head; he is just unwilling to make it easy for you. Take, for example, “Who is Iron God:” here is a song in with verses lead by a guitar so dissonant as to sound completely free of tune, only to take flight with a riff and vocal melody that is as catchy as any rock song has been in the last 10 years.

Understanding this, the rest of the record snaps into the place. The experiment of dissonance v pop plays out over the course of the album; its why a straightforward, almost elegant song like “Standard Issue Grief” can exist next to a growing blast of unpleasantness like ‘Middleyurt” and not seem incongruous. It is why a twisted spy anthem like “The Good Sword” can pivot from twisty, paranoid minor chords into a sunny chorus, only to dip below acid clouds a moment later. Love Letters in the Age of Steam is alchemy.

Check it out on Bandcamp.