We Are Scientists - With Love And Squalor
Emily Tartanella 17/10/2005
In the business world, you may be given the option to “get in on the ground floor,” to find something new and monumentally rewarding. Well, think of We Are Scientists as just that prospect.
It's possible to assign them the “New Franz” tag, seeing as they are danceable, modest young men hovering just below the radar. But We Are Scientists are not Franz Ferdinand, nor are they Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, or any such misnomer. They're a product of the same scene, and draw on the same clear influences (The Jam, Gang of Four, The Attractions) but that doesn't mean they're following the same blueprint. Instead We Are Scientists bring their own perspective to this moment, interpreting British style through punk-rock American eyes.
The current scene in indie rock is so dominated by the Brits, it's easy to forget that we in the good old U.S.A. invented it (argue amongst yourselves, if you must). We Are Scientists are kind enough to remind you of the role American rock deserves to play, all the while keeping your feet moving. Which is the important part, after all.
But all this theorizing as to “the role of American rock” is best left to the journalists. We Are Scientists (using the classic guitarist/bassist/drummer format) just supply the songs and, luckily, they're phenomenal. With Love and Squalor opens with “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt,” which is good enough to make you ignore the grammatical error. You may have seen the video, which features the band being chased by a bear. Yeah, this isn't exactly Interpol, here, We Are Scientists know how to have fun. “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” is an indie floor filler in the works, psychotically danceable and full of “whoa-oh-oh” vocals, with pounding bass lines and a manic guitar. It features vocalist Keith Murray imploring “If you want to use my body, go for it!” Well, how could we refuse?
Yet it's “This Scene is Dead” that packs the greatest, most thoughtful punch on this album. Hey, scenesters, looking for an anthem? Here you go. With lyrics like “The night is young, I'm blacking out” and “Look, I would really love to kiss you,” it emphasizes an apathetic generation that knows more about love in a darkened club than with each other. It's almost Morrisseyan in its dissection of a loveless existence filled by empty action, except much more tuneful. Luckily such introspection is obliterated by “Inaction,” a thrashing ode to, well, inaction, which sounds like Gang of Four beating the hell out of Hard-Fi. Ace.
“Can't Lose” follows “This Scene is Dead” as mournful, artfully contemplative on the current scene, claiming that “Everybody says I got to get over myself.” It's a testament to We Are Scientists that it's not repetitive but transcendent, angular and vital. You'd think that, coming this fast out of the gate, With Love and Squalor would start to fade. And you'd be right. Almost. Because while nothing can match the thrall of the first four tracks, the next eight try they're best and do a damn good job. “Callbacks” stutters and prances its way to your earlobes, shrieking like a jilted lover who just rediscovered their love for hectic New York rock. “It's a Hit” is, ironically, a miss, a melodramatic pounder with soaring vocals that never really gets off the ground. Though the chorus of “I've been hit! I've been hit!” has its moments.
Then, however, we have “The Great Escape.” The most unhinged, anarchic moment of the album and perhaps: the best. Think Kaiser Chief's “Saturday Night” in its stream-of-consciousness uber-paranoid rant. Keith Murray's blazingly confident guitar belies the sense of loss and confusion reflected in the lyrics. It somehow falls into the category of “escaping a bear” music. Impressive.
“Textbook” leans into Alkaline Trio territory, which is not a good thing. Too bland and way too dull for a band: this exciting and interesting. “Lousy Reputation” was evidently written for lying on your bed at age 17, and shows that We Are Scientists can pull off plaintive vocals and sincere complaint as well as they can manage art-rock dance riffs. “Worth the Wait” (fitting, seeing its place as the penultimate track) has a curiously unique chord structure, seeming much older than its years. “I've been holding on for way too long, you're always worth the wait though, I guess” Keith proclaims, and it's another testament to insecurity masquerading as machismo, something We Are Scientists do sublimely. And last, there's “What's the Word,” an exhaustive plea to all those other bands who aren't getting attention, because “What's the point of making all this noise/If nothing's ever getting heard?” Maybe this band's afraid of falling into obscurity? If there's any justice, they'll go to the top.
Yes, there are flaws. But it's a new band, and flaws like a slight drag towards the end of the album or a hint of monotony are excusable. It's not perfect, but that haphazard enthusiasm makes We Are Scientists so interesting. They'd have the joy of a young Libertines if they took themselves seriously which, thankfully, they don't. Instead, With Love and Squalor manages to be danceable, thrilling, exciting, and unique all at once.
My advice? Buy, buy, buy, because the We Are Scientists stock is on the rise.