For Against's stark and chilling second album is their best, one of the most powerful dream pop releases of the late '80s. Harry Dingman's icicle shots of chiming guitars, Greg Hill and Jeffrey Runnings' agile rhythmic thrust, and Runnings' boyish (but every bit as forceful) vocals rarely combine for a less-than-riveting listen. With its fluid bass-and-drum punch and enveloping twists of guitars, December's most fitting reference point is the Chameleons' Script of the Bridge. Balancing the aggressive with the reserved just as well as its prime inspiration, December's nine songs float, skip, and roam with a level of immaculately-paced grace that can't be heard on most albums of the era. Runnings' anguished expressions of despair, resentment, and embittered bile hit with the same scythe-like precision of Bob Mould's best output -- in fact, given the atmospherics and complementary production at play (including the ideal amount of reverb), the songs are even more haunting than Mould's relatively pure-pop leanings. "The Last Laugh" is one of the first places to go for an example of the album at its best. After Runnings accuses a partner of giving him a nervous breakdown and pleads to get his life back, the song shifts into a dextrous tempo change that recalls the controlled jerkiness of post-punk's upper tier and spins catharsis back into fraught tension. At 36 minutes, December plays briefly but leaves the effect of an epic. Understated but full of ambition, it's a sticky trap. Though it was released on a respected label -- albeit one with limited distribution and exposure -- it's frustrating to think of how revered it would've been if it had instead featured a 4AD catalog number.
by Andy Kellman