Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thrill of Discovery: Arctic Monkeys - Part 1

Thrill of discovery is an ongoing feature where I dive headfirst into the discography of a band everyone loves or are popular for some reason that I've never been able to understand based on cursory listens. It is an effort to fill in the gaps of my musical knowledge, which there are very many, and the end result is designed to be "fewer." This go around, it's British post-post-punk popular darlings Arctic Monkeys. It's meant to be a bit of a break from the colossal undertaking that was the Ween discography and the even more massive discography of the next artist, REM, who handily just broke up and it's now the perfect time to figure out why people are all apeshit for them now that they're kaput. But anyway, Arctic Monkeys. I chose them because I always thought they were entirely boring despite only ever hearing chunks of their songs on alt-rock radio. I realized I'd never actually listened to one of their records and that I couldn't even name one of their songs. I recently watched Richard Ayoade's directorial debut, the absolutely wonderful coming-of-age story Submarine which boasts an absolutely appropriate and unreasonably gorgeous five-song soundtrack from Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. Turn's out the guy is quite the songwriter. That coincided with the release of the music video of the title track from Arctic Monkeys latest LP, Suck it and See, and while I thought the video was a beautifully shot load of sexy rubbish, the song was really fucking great. Oh yeah, that's why I watched Submarine that night. Go figure.

Day 1: September 26, 2011
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

“The View From the Afternoon”

Sounds like a mash-up of the best of blur and the lingering dance-punk influence that sadly dwelt in the middle of the 00s. BUT, this song plays off with enough swagger and British enunciation and general funness that makes it not only work, but makes me want to listen to more. It’s pulling the same card as the Strokes, almost the exact same one except barely more British. The guitars are crunchier, the structures more loose, and it works.

“I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”

I can't tell if he's trying to be the Gallagher brothers or not (not really). We have the same guitar, though, so COOL.

What I like about this album (two songs in) is that none of it feels overthought which is really, I think, is one of the many Achilles’ Heels of modern music. Especially mainstream music. Especially mainstream modern rock, the kind of wannabe alternative trash they play on 96.5 the Buzz. Arctic Monkeys sound like Buzz stables. Like they could fit in right next to the Killers or Straylight Run or any of those other mass-produced sounding bands reliant on the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Chorus-Chorus-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus song structure, and naturally they’d stick out as sounding a bit more with it since they don’t beat their songs to death. They know that a good pop song should be right around or just under the three minute mark. Good for them.

“Fake Tales of San Francisco”

This is better than the last song, which I think was the single. The first single. Big single? I don’t really know. Again, fucking dance punk drums that will date this as the years go on but Alex Turner is a good enough writer to carry this band, it seems. Great hooks, fun and clever lyrics, etc. I appreciate concept albums, too. Even if they’re just thematically conceptual like the club scene nature of the songs here, it gets a thumbs up and if it sucks an E for effort.

“Dancing Shoes”

Aaaaand now into the realm of way-too-obvious fan films.

Speaking of dancing, the British obsession with clubbing is so strange to me yet probably not much different from any of the commonplace mating rituals we have here in the States. What’s the equivalent? I mean, they have gigs and stuff there, and yeah we have rave clubs where teenagers do ecstasy and get all sweaty all over each other but it seems like it’s thee thing to do in England to stave off boredom and maybe get laid. Anyway, just realized that this band sounds a lot like a grimier version of Franz Ferdinand.

“Still Take You Home”

You know, at first I was like "Well, this is all just really simplistic and that's fine but still" but you know what, it makes me really happy to see that rock bands can still be popular. Or maybe that's a mainstream thing, but I think Arctic Monkeys have a bit more artfulness than most like the Strokes or something and though that trend is dead and buried, I'll take this over Chillwave any day.

This album already sounds a bit dated. The whole mid 00s is already set in amber and so much of this album is either taking from things that were happening in the earlier 00s or late 70s punk rock. Edgier Blur tones and a less full of themselves Strokes come to mind again, over and over. At least I don’t think they’re a bunch of rich kids. Or at least it doesn’t sound like they’re a bunch of rich kids. Rich kids can be deceptive because lord knows how they love to be perceived as poor because they think it makes them real despite the fact that the only reason their little band has any traction whatsoever is because of the connections they were born with. Back to the old argument of is it great art if it was born with money because poor people without connections are making great albums no one will ever hear or are the albums legit because the opportunity for everything was there forever. It’s a useless argument, totally. And what was I talking about? Oh yeah, “Still Take You Home” sounds like it should be a filler track, if that makes sense. Like the kind of track most bands use for late album padding, except it’s really good. A straight up jam, not super spectacular but good and a grower for certain. Something to latch on to.

Day 2: September 27, 2011

“Mardy Bum”

I think this is the song that works best on the album, but it also serves as a perfect example to what a song needs to be, which is that it needs to be able to be played on an acoustic guitar and a voice and still work. I guess that's not true. Probably a lie, actually. But I've always thought that that the best songs did. Like it needs to work at the very base to work at all or it's just going to collapse and bury whatever family is living inside of it.

God, this sounds like a fucking single, if only because it’s my favorite song on the album so far. But probably because I had to stop listening when this one was almost over and picked up writing by just replaying it. I’ve probably been over this before, but the reason I love short pop songs so much is that it illustrates a knowledge that it’s better to leave a listener wanting more than to run it into the ground by repeating the chorus 8,000,000 times. Oh, I already said that? It bears repeating because modern rock is fucked that way. “Mardy Bum” is just under 3 minutes long and I immediately want to listen to it again once it’s done. I appreciate the craft of it. Sure, it sounds extra-Blur-y, but they’re British and EVERYTHING sounds like Blur over there. Great hook, well written, solid jam.

“From the Ritz to the Rubble”

Shit, this one is really great too. Definitely Finn-y.

Alex Turner’s vocal delivery and songwriting is Arctic Monkeys’ greatest gift. Their music is a more punked up dance-punk meets the Strokes but Turner is onto something. I keep thinking of Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, who also writes songs about kids going to crazy parties, doing too many drugs, trying to get laid, and having massive highs and crushing lows. Turner also doesn’t seem to like to repeat his choruses, making them structural placeholders and expending his energy in telling these fancy clubbing stories in the verses. And that’s the kind of songwriting I love and it stands opposed to all the other goddamn songwriting in modern radio rock music right now. Lyrically, the song appears to be a rote account of not getting let into a club thanks to some Nazi bouncers then going off, getting drunk, having some maybe deep conversations with the girl you made out with and reflecting on that the next morning. Simple stuff making me thing Alex Turner is Craig Finn’s spiritual little brother. He’s not as gifted as Finn is with details and wordplay and well, all around songwriting prowess, but his heart is in the right place.

“A Certain Romance”


OK, I’ve already mentioned the whole three minute pop song rant like 8 times, and “A Certain Romance” is 1.) The first real deviation from that format on this record and 2.) Very obviously the favorite single from this record because 3.) It’s the most solid, certifiable jam. And it’s right at the very end, which I thought was either a ballsy move or wasn’t intended to be on the album but they tacked it on after people loved it so much (or they realized it was such a jam and could sell more records). It’s just a big motherfucking song and it works at its length. It’s not my favorite song on the record, but it’s a nice cap on a debut that I thought was gonna be garbage when it came out all those years ago.

Day 3: September 29, 2011

Who the Fuck Are Arcic Monkeys? EP

This is a glorified single for Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’s lead-off track “A View From the Afternoon.” And though it came out only a few months after the LP, it already feels like a departure. From the soulful haze of “Despair in the Departure Lounge” that really illustrates what this band is capable of if they drop the dance punk beats and the bratty faux-punk delivery. The song sounds like it was recorded in one take at three in the morning and the solo performance makes it all the more lonely. Actually, all of the tracks save the one “A View of From the Afternoon” take Arctic Monkeys in a much more enjoyable direction.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to read your R.E.M. feature. Their first eight albums are brilliant. After that, they slowly went downhill.