Britain’s Arctic Monkeys were the very first music success story of the Internet Age. Posting their demos and recordings on MySpace (remember that?) the band built up a groundswell of fans around the world that quickly catapulted them to stardom. Their timing couldn’t have been more perfect, not only was the technology waiting to be exploited but the British music scene was still going through a post-Oasis malaise. The cry for something new could be heard across the UK and the Arctic Monkeys stepped up to the plate as they attempted to capture the sentiments and experiences of English youth in the 21st century.
Their first two albums Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) and Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007) were both huge critical and commercial successes and established the Arctic Monkeys’ sound of fast paced indie rock that dripped with youthful vigour. Alex Turner’s laconic English drawl also helped set the band apart from their contemporaries.
The band’s third album, Humbug(2009), saw the Monkeys push their sound in a new direction. They flew out to America to record in California and New York. The frenetic, high tempo sing-a-longs were replaced by brooding, psychedelic, heavy guitars; undoubtedly the influence of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) who co-produced the album. Although not the commercial success of their past efforts, Humbug showed a band that was determined to grow and evolve and not be typecast as a one trick pony.
Although an enjoyable record, the major criticism levelled at Humbug was that it lacked the infectious hooks of its predecessors. With Suck It and See the Arctic Monkeys seem intent to rectify this problem with songs that are immediately catchy while at the same time continuing the work of Humbug by broadening their sonic palette with new sounds and textures.
Opening track, “She’s Thunderstorms” introduces an enchanting post-punk sound that hearkens back to the late 80s and bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain. This post-punk element is laced throughout the album and comes to the fore brilliantly on “Piledriver Waltz” and “Love is a Laserquest.”
At the same time the band still makes use of the heavy rock sound they experimented with on Humbug. The throbbing bass line of “Brick By Brick” delivers a heavy groove that will make you feel dirty in all the right ways while its choruses are pure pop delight. First single “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” is all booming guitars as Alex Turner tempts you like a snake to do something dangerous. “Don’t Sit Down” is one of the few tracks that drummer Matt Helders is allowed to really cut loose and his percussion combined with the slow, dark guitars will pound you into submission.
It only seems like yesterday that the Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene with their energetic indie rock. By now you’ve probably already got a firm impression of the Monkeys and whether or not their material is your kind of thing. If you’ve only ever listened to their Whatever People Say I Am… you’d do well to check out Suck It and Seeif for no other reason to chart the growth this band has shown in such a small period of time. Rather than allow themselves to burn out and disappear as a fad band, the Arctic Monkeys have positioned themselves as a group for the long haul with an expanding, eclectic and engaging sound.
It might be slower than their past work but Suck It and See is a fine offering from a band that has become comfortable in its own skin and assured of its skill. Everything about this record reeks of class and precision. Alex Turner has developed into an engaging frontman whose voice and swagger will have listeners eating out of his hand while the music shows a growing maturity and complexity. Fans should be excited for where this band decides to go next. Sometimes slowing down can be a good thing.
(Domino Recording Co.)
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.