In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in commemoration of Neil Young’s new and novel record, we’ve selected our favorite lo-fi cuts.
There’s no better word to describe Pennsylvania’s 1994! other than “weird.” During its most active period, 1994! ran alongside the bands that would be the first to truly jumpstart the so-called emo revival, the majority of which would break up before benefiting from its newfound cachet. Somehow, the two-piece that is 1994! outlasted all of them, even as its drummer relocated to Belgium and turned his focus on a solo project, NAH.
The band’s most recent offering is Fuck It, an album that was literally phoned in, and which turned out to be the band’s most beautifully transgressive offering. Recorded in various European countries while on tour, Fuck It is a pinnacle of modern lo-fi recording techniques. Using an iPhone and a knock-off Shure sm58 microphone (one traditionally used as a vocal mic in live settings) there’s little fidelity to be found here, just a desperate push from a band that never adhered to any scene or style. Though meant to be consumed as a singular piece that lasts nearly 25 minutes, Fuck It is split up into various tracks, each one as cavernous and isolating as the nest. The drum tones echo and distort, the guitar lacks any discernible tone, and vocals are buried in the mix.
The term “fuck it” proves to be the group’s mission statement, offering up some of its best work in the lowest quality possible. Each movement has its charms, even if it deliberately makes fans struggle to decode the math-rock riffs it adeptly tosses out. Of the tracks that make up Fuck It, “From Decay” is perhaps the most listenable, the lone ballad in a catalog full of mathy, spazzy chaos. It’s the moment of clarity and calm on an album that, by design, deals in claustrophobic noise, looped guitar feedback, cacophonous drums, and about a million other descriptions meant to dissuade a casual listener. In many ways Fuck It is both 1994!’s best and worst album. It’s a grand experiment that works and fails in equal measure, finally documenting the band’s enigmatic and uncompromising nature on a recording. Fuck It is not just a name, it’s an ethos, one more bands should have.