Music

Art Brut: Its a Bit Complicated

Talk-singer Eddie Argos and his art-pop indie rock quartet bring on the fun once again for their sophomore album.


Art Brut

It's a Bit Complicated

Label: Downtown
US Release Date: 2007-06-19
UK Release Date: 2007-06-25
Amazon
iTunes

On their second album, London quintet Art Brut play... a weird assortment of covers? No, thankfully. But, looking at the track listing, you might be inclined to think so. On It's a Bit Complicated, "Pump Up the Volume" is neither a song by M.A.R.R.S. nor a Christian Slater film about pirate radio; "I Will Survive" isn't Gloria Gaynor's disco ode to throwin' out the bad boyfriend; and "Jealous Guy" isn't a cover of John Lennon's admission of sin (Bryan Ferry already nailed that baby). These are the song titles Art Brut talk-singer Eddie Argos cheekily borrowed for three of his 11 tales of record collecting and dating.

In 2005, when he and his mates issued their addictive debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, both band and album sounded incredibly fresh (here's Adrien Begrand's PopMatters review). Even though Art Brut's style easily fit in with a crowd including Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, and Louis XIV (forgot about those guys already, didn't you?), they made a distinct impression and stood out from the other art-pop indie rockers. This was thanks almost entirely to Argos, who asserted his individual style right away and never backed down. He joined a weird lineage of lead vocalists who rarely (if ever) "sing" in the traditional way we think of vocalists as singing. Instead, like those who came before him -- Mark E. Smith, King Missile's John S. Hall, and that guy from the Pursuit of Happiness -- Eddie Argos makes only minimal conceits to the standard means of delivering his clever and endearing words. Aside from dispatching his lines in time to the beat, he's basically just reading. What makes his style catchy is that he does so in much the same way you would read a Dr. Seuss book to a child, by alternating the pitch of your voice at the end of each line. "Do you like his spoken vox? / Would you listen with a fox?"

Art Brut haven't modified their approach at all for their sophomore release. Scrappy rock 'n' roll with a trebly buzz and big hooks worked for them the first time around, so why change? Well, seemingly every other band who emerged in 2005 has felt the need to abandon the fun tunes that made them likeable in favor of a darker and more serious sound. (I've harped on this already in 2007, and may well continue to do so.) Fortunately, Art Brut didn't get the memo that the fashion trend had changed. Or maybe Argos used said scrap of paper to scrawl out some lyrics about making out and listening to music. These are the themes of the album, and they pop right up in the opening track, "Pump Up the Volume". Set to a Pavement-like indie theme with a garagey crunch, Argos wonders, "Is it so wrong / To break from your kiss / To turn up a pop song?" It is this sort of conflict which yields the "a Bit" part of the album's title; certainly, the battle between heavy petting and deep listening wouldn't warrant "It's Extremely Complicated".

The following track, "Direct Hit", is the dance-rock song of the summer. The main guitar riff is straight from early '80s radio rock (Benatar and Loverboy), propelling the cut deliriously forward. The shout-cheer of backing vocals on the refrain sounds anthemic and huge. And, as Arctic Monkeys proved last year, any song about what happens on a "dancefloor" is way rad. Art Brut toughen up on "St. Pauli", as Argos barks, "Punk rock is nicht tot!" No, it's not dead, but Art Brut aren't the ones keeping it alive. They're far too cute to be punk. They do appreciate punk's DIY spirit, though, championing "7-inch record"s and even the technical details involved in the art of the mix tape. As Eddie explains in "Sound of Summer", you need to hit "Play and record / Held down together / Tabs pushed up / So you can't tape over it ever." Actually, two thin strips of adhesive tape will help you replace an ex's collection of love songs with a dub of that killer new Nirvana album. Wait, it's not the '90s anymore. Does anybody still use cassettes? Ah, well. Another part of Argos's charm is his nostalgia. After all, it was his fondness for his grade school sweetheart, Emily Kane, that fueled Art Brut's best-known song from their first album.

It's a Bit Complicated doesn't quite live up to the thrill of that debut, but it's still just as good as its predecessor. Both of their full-lengths start off strong, wavering toward the end. On a few tracks in Complicated's second half, the ragged lack of focus from 2005 has been replaced, in 2007, with a little complacency. Still, the new record has plenty of excellent tracks and a likeability that permeates every song; even the so-so numbers are enjoyable. In a year when their peers all sound tired and annoyed, Art Brut bring on the fun for the second time around. It's a direct hit.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image