For Against - December

Words On Music
(WM16: 656605880723)
Release date: 1988
Genre: Post Punk

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In 1988 For Against recorded the distinguished December album for Independent Project Records. December is a fan favorite and is unparalleled in the annals of post-punk for its unique blend of aggressive, atmospheric, melodic pop songs. The album is also now largely considered by critics to be a forerunner of the dream pop scene popularized in England just a few years later (i.e. Pale Saints, Ride, Kitchens of Distinction).

A hyper and ferocious rhythm section launches December with "Sabres" as drummer Greg Hill finds room for fills in spaces upon which most drummers would not even dare to encroach. Singer Jeffrey Runnings continues to intrigue by conveying his dark (and at times obscure) lyrics in a deceptively boyish delivery: "I'm not crying any more / I'm keeping you / I'm not wishing any more / I'm keeping you."

Runnings' punctuated bass line propels the opening of "Stranded in Greenland," although by the second verse guitarist Harry Dingman's melodic patterns begin to take shape and weave ever more pronounced circles around the rhythms within. Runnings' chorus is a knockout punch, in spite — or perhaps because — of its simple, four-fold restatement of the song title, enhanced on the last delivery by Runnings' own delicious harmonies. The curious subject matter of the song compels the listener to consider if Greenland is in fact a metaphor — perhaps for the band's native Nebraska?

Hill's tom-tom rolls, complimented by Dingman's nimble repetitive picking intervals, help to insure "Svengali" recalls the best of Chronic Town-era R.E.M. The chorus breaks out into a more aggressive, classic For Against romp — eighth note basslines, lush dreamy guitars, all speeding along at a breakaway clip.

The pace slows a bit for "They Said," but Runnings' words come across as ever the more heartfelt. The vocals and Dingman's melodies alternately take center stage at the chorus, gracefully dipping in and out. The last chorus gives way to a bridge replete with orchestral-sounding 12-string sweeps that escort the song to its melancholic end.

Brooding elements from For Against's debut album Echelons remain, most evident in the prominent basslines of the 6/8-metered "The Effect." Echoed guitar work and repetitive Joy Division-esque basslines create a dark structure onto which Runnings' vocals and words are on display more than any other track. "And now you've got me lying down on the floor / To think that you're the one that I adored."

Dingman's crushing, two-note melody lingers throughout the first few sparse minutes of the measured title track. But halfway through "December" Dingman turns to full-blown chords that resonate against Hill's accelerated drumming. Once Runnings delivers the last line, his melodic bass takes over the reigns like Peter Hook of New Order, until the song trails off into faded fragments.

Dingman's guitar work is on full display in "The Last Laugh" — with scores of reverbed melodies and improbable harmonics. The alternating focus on Dingman's melodies and Runnings' vocals in the verses subtly demonstrates For Against's crafty and sophisticated musicianship. The chorus, however, is all Runnings — with his gloriously shimmering voice perched atop the punchy basslines that anchor the song.

Hill's percussion and Dingman's harmonics add sparkling touches to the opening verses of "Paperwhites." The song contains one of the most memorable bridges on the album, with Runnings' haunting melodies giving way to a rare Dingman guitar solo.

The album closes with the not-to-be missed "Clandestine High Holy" — certainly one of the fastest, if not the most requested song in the For Against catalog. Dingman's guitar teeters on the edge of feedback throughout the intro while Runnings pounds out fierce basslines that would make Gang of Four blush. Ending the album in spectacular fashion, Dingman propels the band through a minute-plus coda with cascading chord progressions that simply bring chills to the spine.

Words On Music's re-release of December has been remastered, includes two ultra-rare For Against videos, and is issued in a new six-panel digipak design from Bruce Licher.

1. sabres (3.24)
2. stranded in greenland (3.11)
3. svengali (2.44)
4. they said (4.11)
5. the effect (4.38)
6. december (5.06)
7. the last laugh (4.31)
8. paperwhites (3.41)
9. clandestine high holy (4.23)
bonus videos
1. autocrat [video]
2. echelons [video]

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