Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Art Brut - Art Brut vs Satan (* * * *)

Art Brut is the kind of band that shouldn't be able to make three good albums. That's not to say they aren't talented, but the whole project should have worn out it's welcome by now. When they burst onto the scene several years ago with Bang Bang Rock 'n' Roll, the band's quirky post-punk style - combined with singer Eddie Argos' talk-sing vocals - was certainly fun and a breath of fresh air, but it never felt quite sustainable. Now, four years later, the boys are still doing pretty much the same thing, and I - for one - am still having a great time. Argos' whit is very much intact and the band continue to provide sharp, angular rock 'n' roll riffs that make their latest effort, Art Brut vs Satan, a solid return for these lovable and seemingly perpetual underdogs.

Lead track and first single, "Alcoholics Unanimous," has been in constant rotation for me for the last month or so and provides a fantastic kick-off for the record. Argos spends the time wondering about what exactly happened to him the night before while his friends shout out less than encouraging and often contradictory phrases during the chorus ("I've been making mistakes - lots of mistakes! I'm hiding it well - Not very well!"). Argos is still primarily dealing with his inability to properly manage his life and his penchant for causing awkward situations, but he's clever enough that it doesn't get stale. "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake" is an enthusiastic ode to never growing up, "Am I Normal?" is all about romantic failures, and "Summer Job" discusses trading work for time with friends.

Argos has some less than inspired moments scattered throughout the disc, like the boring public transportation anthem "The Passenger" or the tuneless "Slap Dash for No Cash," but he's on so much of the time the misfires don't stick out much. Adding to the record's consistency is the explosive mix of spiky guitars, frenetic drums, and backing vocals that always hit the spot. Art Brut may love punk music, but they can't hide their obsession with pop melodies and anthematic choruses. Albums these days are generally top-heavy, but Art Brut close 'vs Satan' with a fantastic three-song set, starting with the funky, danceable "Twist and Shout," continuing with the previously mentioned "Summer Job" and ending in the confused, catchy "Mysterious Bruises," the latter of which is well over seven minutes long.

Art Brut is a band that can take little getting used to, but Art Brut vs Satan is the kind of record that's easy to love and was made to be enjoyed. Featuring spectacular production from Pixies frontman Frank Black and a fresh, invigorated effort from the boys, this could be the perfect addition to your summer collection. I imagine these guys will have to grow up eventually, but while they keep making such great records, I don't mind that they take their time.

Oh, and be sure to check out the video for "Alcoholics Unanimous"