CD Review: Art Brut

It's a Bit Complicated Downtown
Music ••• Sound ••••
Art Brut's debut album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, featured the single "Formed a Band," in which vocalist Eddie Argos recounted his attraction to raw sound. Now he extends that commitment in the first song here, "Pump Up the Volume," wondering: "Is it so wrong to break from your kiss to turn up a pop song?" Elsewhere, he celebrates "the crackle of vinyl" and "the hiss of the tape" - and with "headphones on, I make my escape." For Argos, music always shows up on the beat, but love confounds him. What might this say to all the kids growing up with earbuds permanently pasted to their heads? Eventually, you have to learn to hear above the noise and realize that there's a real world out there.

Or you can do like Eddie: take your chances and form a band. This U.K. quintet replaced a guitarist between albums, but that hasn't affected their punkish attack. Ian Catskilkin and Jasper Future crank out staccato riffs and cathartic power chords with solid assurance, recycling Wire in much the same tradition as the Rolling Stones reworking Chuck Berry. The sound is brawny without excess, and the tracks are tight and crisp, with no song lingering to 4 minutes.

Argos never "sings." As with the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, his two-note range is strictly for rambling on. Which gives him plenty of room to crack wise: "People in love lie around and get fat / I didn't want us to end up like that." So when the music's over, like a good rock disciple, Argos turns out the lights. But he's a "Jealous Guy" who admits, "I can't sleep because I've started to question / Whether your ex-boyfriends let you get this much restin'." Back that with his band's nervous tension, and it's as if Woody Allen woke up one morning and found himself an insecure British punk leading a band, looking for the meaning of life on the inner sleeve of a Buzzcocks album. He won't find any answers, but he'll nick a few cool riffs in the meantime.

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