J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Now Departing: Art Brut - It's a Bit Complicated


Art Brut
It's a Bit Complicated
(Downtown ; 2007)


N.B. : During the month of December, the Now Departing feature will be looking at some of the best records from 2007 that I didn't get to review. These may be records bound for the Top 25 Albums list on December 19th or just something I really wanted to talk about that got put aside in the shuffle. December is often a slow month for new releases (except for that new Wu-Tang album out on the 11th) so truly new album release reviews will return in January. Thanks for reading.

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Among the crop of British bands that have burst out in the last few years, for my money there are two at the top in terms of ingenuity and generally enjoyable production: the Arctic Monkeys and Art Brut. And it's fitting that both of these bands would have produced a new album this year; it's also, for both, their sophomore effort. One band, despite losing a bass player and general doubt about their longevity, put out a divine follow-up to their lightning debut. The other, Art Brut, put out an album that turned inward where their debut had snarked outward and ended up creating a lesser, but still worthy, album.

Art Brut's music, like love, best comes in spurts and if there was any problem with their rollicking debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, it was that it went on just a touch too long. Too many songs for the way in which they were delivered, even if the album only clocked in at just over 40 minutes. It's a Bit Complicated fixes this by trimming the song count to 11 and the running time to just under 35 minutes, but where the debut had enough really firecracker songs to make the running time still seem okay, it's a lackluster middle couplet that keeps It's a Bit Complicated from being the excellent album it should have been.

The maturation of bands is often the natural expectation, especially of bands that come out with a snarky or bratty attitude in a debut (e.g. the Beastie Boys), and the lyrics of It's a Bit Complicated do turn inward a bit - focusing more on domestic/relationship issue things and the nature of being a music fan rather than a band member. It kicks off with one of their finest songs to date, "Pump Up the Volume," a song that staggers along until an absolutely note-perfect solo interjects itself in the bridge. Singer Eddie Argos talks of being in the middle of (ahem) carnal relations and being distracted by the radio ("I know I shouldn't; / is it so wrong / to break from your kiss / to turn up a pop song?"), possibly out of eagerly trying to share a musical moment with his partner. "Direct Hit" follows with its strutting opening and club characters who are seeking out a dance partner for the night. The opening quartet of songs wraps with "People in Love," a charming, cutting analyzation of a relationship on the ropes, where both sides know it's about to end.

And this is where the record stumbles. The opening four songs are a great set that take their debut's sound and turn up the focus and the lyrics a bit and generally succeed well, even if only "Pump Up the Volume" and "People in Love" truly approach the greatness of Bang Bang Rock & Roll's highlights. The middle section begins with "Late Sunday Evening," a song that mines a guitar sound similar to Modern Life is Rubbish-era Blur - bouncy, horn-sectioned and catchy. But it doesn't necessarily serve the band's typical M.O. It's a nice attempt at stepping outside their box, but falls short of really succeeding. "I Will Survive" is just an Art Brut song that doesn't take off - typical in sound and not very exciting.

"Post Soothing Out" begins the healing process with a tasty guitar lead that drives the melody of the song throughout. The post-relationship themes continue here - then hide again under "Blame It On the Trains"'s cheeky 'let's skip work' theme. (Maybe it's the much more upbeat companion to Hayden's "We Don't Mind"?) "Sounds of Summer" and "Nag Nag Nag Nag" revisit the themes of music-fandom, though from a more critical bent. ("A record collection / reduced to a mix-tape / headphones on / I made my escape / I'm in a film / with a personal soundtrack," Argos feverishly sings in the latter.) There's not a narrative theme to the whole record, but if you had to try and pinpoint at least a commonality, you'd end up with a self-reflective look at the snarky, snotty narrator of the first album - still full of vim and vinegar, but also more self-aware than before.

It's this theme that allows the album to succeed. Bang Bang Rock & Roll is the type of debut more bands need to make - but make a career out of? No. It's a Bit Complicated, titled accurately, best reflects a band who is too smart to waste talent on trying to rehash a laureled opening or in trying to move apart from it entirely. Audiences like to feel like they can follow where an artist or band is going with their sound. By keeping the first album's musical feel mostly intact, but turning the lyrics in on themselves, Argos and company have invited us all along for something a lot more insightful. Whether it will keep that momentum is anyone's guess.

Rating: E(xcellent) / I(nteresting)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Art Brut - "Direct Hit"

Art Brut - "People in Love"

Art Brut - "Nag Nag Nag Nag"

Download It's a Bit Complicated from EMusic.

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3 Comments:

  • At 5:31 PM, January 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great review. Personally this is one of my favorite albums of 07. But yes the middle songs do tend to hold record back from being totally amazing... Just wondering, but what are your opinions about the second CYHSY album, Some Loud Thunder?

    I really liked your year end list, but personally I would have included the new Polyphonic Spree record and the new Peter Bjorn and John album. What are some of your thoughts on these two albums?

    BTW - awesome blog and radio show. Keep it up!

    Tristan E.

     
  • At 7:05 PM, January 17, 2008, Blogger J. Neas said…

    You've managed to ask me about a trio of bands that I avoided (not necessarily on purpose) this year. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's first album never got any traction with me, so I've sort of ignored them since. I know that's not always smart, but when there is so much music to hear, cutting ballast is necessary.

    PB&J suffered from the 'got mentioned too much on Pitchfork' syndrome which sinks a lot of bands for me. That's not fair at all, but they really slipped by me because hype desensitized me to them. I'm not sure how because apparently I'm about the only person in the indie-world who has never heard "Young Folks." As much as their name is very familiar to me, I've never heard a lick of their music.

    The Polyphonic Spree - I heard cuts off of their new one before it came out, then when it actually was released, it got right past me. So again, I haven't heard it. I do like them though (I really like Tripping Daisy as well), so I need to get my ears on it.

    When it comes to my year end lists, I do have a tendency to favor artists who I didn't hear as much about in the national press as others. I want to give them a shot to be heard by some people - I don't like it if my year end list resembles too closely most of the others. A handful of similarities are good (Is the National's record NOT on anyone's list?), but that's why I invariably put a handful of NC bands on there.

    Thanks for the compliments, Tristan , and thanks for reading and commenting. I love feedback, especially when I'm being tone-deaf for no good reason. :)

     
  • At 9:59 PM, January 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I definitely see your reasons for ignoring those three bands! I don't read much, if any, Pitchfork, so I guess I just like PB&J for what they are - and for some crazy, insane reason CYHSY and TPSpree just appealed to me personally.... The Spree is just such an uplifting band. For some reason whenever I turn them on the day seems to get a bit brighter!

    BTW, have you heard of a Scottish folksy/indie band called My Latest Novel? I just found them and am totally loving their album "Wolves".

    T.

     

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