Beards, Blazers & Brut: Art Brut
No self-respecting music journalist writes an article on the British five-piece, Art Brut without comparing lead singer, Eddie Argos' archly ironic demeanor to Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers. So let's just get it out the way. Yeah, Argos has that underachieving but highly intelligent, smirking in the back of the classroom vibe that made Richman endearing. But at this point, with their second album, It's a Bit Complicated, slated to drop June 26 on Downtown Records on June 26, its time to move past the simple Modern Lovers comparisons (or The Fall or Television Personalities...et al).
Because watching Argos and the gang turn the Troubadour into a raucous celebration last Saturday, the band didn't remind me of The Modern Lovers nearly as much as they reminded me of another great group from the northeast, The Hold Steady. A description that might seem a little weird if you've never seen them live and had only heard the band's very solid debut, Bang Bang Rock N' Roll, a record as clever as it was catchy, filled with angular riffs and so-dumb-it's brilliant hooks, a far cry from complex character-driven sketches about Midwesterners and their lapsed Catholicism.
The debut was no doubt impressive, but still one had to wonder about Brut being a flash-in-the-pan gimmick, especially considering the spiky post-punk that they'd mined so successfully on Bang Bang was played out by the time the record actually saw a US release last year. Argos had razor-sharp lyrics but if they couldn't once again deliver catchy tunes to back his tongue-in-cheek tales, album number two would be nothing more than ironic hipster schlock.
Garth, Are You Wearing Brut? Yes. My Woman Likes Me in Cologne.
But with their wickedly good live set, Art Brut quelled all and any doubts I might have had. I've seen them three times and they seem to grow tighter and more confident with each visit. In particular, lead guitarist Jasper Future has become increasingly more assured since replacing Chris Chinchilla, who skipped out on the verge of their first U.S. tour. With the nickname "Back to the," Jasper wear a blonde pompadour, handles backing vocals, cups his ear to the crowd and lets off short but blistering solos, a vast improvement on recorded guitar parts that Chinchilla laid down on the debut. The difference between Art Brut pre and post-Future is as striking as the difference between The Hold Steady and their rawer Lifter Puller incarnation, where Tad Kubler languished on bass.
Eddie Argos remains a madman, still jumping rope with the microphone, still raving how you should never trust someone in a band, still commanding Art Brut with rigid comedic discipline,. He delivers asides about "glamorizing bad sex" before launching into "Rusted Guns of Milan." He starts chants of "Fuck Brooklyn" in retaliation for their booing of "Moving to L.A." Like Craig Finn, Argos gets the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand instantly, shouting lyrics like a crazed drunk at the bar, telling tales of adolescence and its immediate aftermath. When Argos talks about "Emily Kane." each time there's a different wrinkle, a new update, reminiscent of Finn revisiting Holly and Charlemagne.
The set was a manic hour, with Brut running through kinetic renditions of the stand-out tracks from Bang Bang Rock N' Roll, wisely jettisoning the only so-so, "Fight," "10,000 Lira," and "Stand Down." In their place are several new, very stellar, It's a Bit Complicated tracks. "Pump the Volume" is the best Weezer song since "Island in the Sun" (and about 1,000 times smarter). While "Direct Hit" is just begging to snagged by music supervisors everywhere.
Eddie Argos: Rock Star By Night, Amateur Abraham Lincoln Assassin by Day
But it's the new single, "Nag Nag Nag" that might be the best song Argos has ever written. It's the first time that Argos relaxes his arch demeanor, exposing just a hint of vulnerability, enough to make you realize how great of a songwriter he has a chance to be. It's a coming of age song that might not be as complex as anything Finn has ever written, but it's no less resonant. The song is the encore and it seems to seal the deal. In the parking lot outside everyone wears a smile and chants "Top of the Pops." Sure, its a little ironic. It's a little British (Newscastles are required), but the mood is always jubilant and celebratory. No matter what you think of this band. You can't deny that they throw killer parties.
MP3: Art Brut-"Nag Nag Nag"
MP3: Art Brut-"Good Weekend"
Stream new tracks at Art Brut's Myspace