Art Brut
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Art Brut

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The best kept secret in music

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Art Brut singer Eddie Argos surveyed the sweating, smiling, flailing crowd in the sweltering late-afternoon heat of Union Park last weekend and was pleased.

"I'd tell you to all go home and form a band," said the singer who wrote an anthem called "Formed a Band," "but that might be too many bands."

Argos and Art Brut were right to be impressed by the sheer numbers that had turned out to see them and 40 other performers over the weekend at the first Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park. Despite oppressive heat, the Near West Side park found itself the center of the indie-rock universe Saturday and Sunday, with more than 36,000 fans attending from around the world.

This was not a typical rock festival, covered in corporate logos and requiring half-a-month's rent for admission. This was a sold-out $20-a-day bargain-basement special, with bands handpicked by the Chicago-based Internet music e-zine Pitchfork. The e-zine editors (and their partner, Mike Reed) are not hardened concert promoters. They're idealists. Editor-in-chief Ryan Schreiber looked as zealously enthralled with the music as many of the young fans he writes for, scurrying from stage to stage to snap pictures of his favorite bands with a small digital camera. But the festival was well-staffed and well-run, with enough shade and water to keep the fans from bottoming out in the heat.

Few casualties were reported. Two concertgoers were treated for heat exhaustion Sunday, Reed said. One performer, a member of the band Bonde Do Role, broke an arm while stage-diving and was taken to a hospital.

Argos, meanwhile, was without his trademark pencil-thin mustache, but have no fear -- several fans had pasted on their own replicas. "Yes, I've seen [my mustache] running around," Argos said with droll exasperation backstage. Oh, those irony-loving indie rock kids.

But for the moment, at least, Art Brut is the best band in the world.
This may be news to the rest of the planet, where dinosaurs such as U2 and the Rolling Stones still roam. But, on Saturday, Argos' Everyman humor hit home, from the funniest song ever about sexual dysfunction ("Rusted Guns of Milan") to one of the funniest songs this year about the first flush of romance ("Good Weekend"), all played with machine-gun fervor by a band that knows how to swing behind a nasty guitar riff or three.
- Chicago Tribune




Let's keep this from becoming another quotefest, but first: "We're becoming more rock 'n' roll/ But we're still just talking to the kids." That live lyrical switcheroo (album version: "It's not rock 'n' roll") came midway into the first song, "Formed a Band", of the first Manhattan show by South London's Art Brut, shortly after they borrowed the Bud-stained riffage of AC/DC's "Back in Black" as an introduction. Turned out the band behind the year's most stupendous slab of stupidsmart pop foolishness was already more polished than Bang Bang Rock & Roll suggests. Rock out!

Lead ranter Eddie Argos looked like a splayed-limbed Roald Dahl dad with his rummage-sale necktie, dark suit, soon-lost black hat and since-shaved Little Richard 'stache (John Waters? please!). "Are you ready, Art Brut?" Argos asked after nearly every song, and they were indeed: Zep-T-shirted lead guitarist Ian Catskilkin, stand-up drummer Mikey B, "shy" bassist Freddy Feedback in a little black dress, and the band's newest member, skinny/pale Chris Walla-a-like Jasper Future, who actually played in previous Argos project Art Goblins. Soon "Modern Art" made Argos rock out, plunging into an unselfconsciously fun-having crowd that included a little drunk mohawked guy who kept trying to buy the band shots. Said a big drunk unmohawked guy, after bumping into my female companion: "I'm sorry, I just love this band so much!"

Does this band love Modern Lovers? Yes, so much that Argos threw at least three Jonathan Richman allusions into the show, not including the title Bang Bang Rock & Roll, swiped from Jojo's "Cappuccino Bar". First: "I'm in love with rock 'n' roll" at the end of "Formed a Band" ("Roadrunner"). Second: "If he's so great/ Why can't he take the world/ And take it straight?" after the anti-crack, anti-Pete Doherty message on "My Little Brother"-- prompting a concerned audience member to cry, "Don't judge him!" ("I'm Straight"). Third: "G-I-R-L-F-R-E-N" on "Bang Bang Rock & Roll" (duh, "Girlfriend"). Argos never got called an asshole. Not in New York!

Art Brut's surprising showmanship didn't end with Richman references, off-stage tumbles and-- there, he said it again-- "ready, Art Brut." Exuding self-effacing charisma, Argos was constantly at play with the band, the audience, and the material. He enlivened "Emily Kane" with a Morrissey quote ("The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get," yikes) and an update on a meeting with Ms. Kane, added "drinking sherry with Bryan Ferry" to the signature Hennessy/Morrissey couplet on "Moving to L.A." before quoting "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "California Girls", and slotted Gang of Four next to VU on his "Bang Bang Rock & Roll" list of unstandables. Extra details in impotence ode "Rusted Guns of Milan" brought tears to Argos's eyes, or was that just a rakish twinkle? Plus he did that "watch me for the changes" bit from uh Back to the Future. My past is my business!

There was new stuff: "Blame It on the Train" was a Lucksmithian ode to missing work and lying in bed and didn't suck. Another new one, supposedly written on the flight over, kicked together German third-division soccer and punk rock and also didn't suck. Not new but new to you, Art Goblins track "These Animal Menswe@r" was a pop-culture satire in the vein of countrymen Half Man Half Biscuit, but with a sound so Pixies-tinged Argos ultimately launched into "Where Is My Mind?" Once is enough!

The band's lightsaber remained "Good Weekend", universal as happy birthday, hooks could kill-- is it just me or is the Fertile Crescent getting more along-getting? "Bad Weekend" was great, too, with its Top-of-the-Pops M.O. and D.I.Y. plan: Argos threatening to return to Manhattan, track down audience members, and ask "each and every one of you if you have formed a band. If you say no, then I will be VERY DISAPPOINTED. Go home. Form a band. Form a band. Form a band. Form a band. Form a band." If you don't have a band name, Art Brut has franchises.

To recap: I went to the show. I came home from the show. I went through the front door, up the stairs, through the bedroom door, probably too tired for the bedroom floor. I didn't form a band. It's not a lack of determination; Art Brut's rock 'n' roll isn't as simple as it seems, and blindly imitating them would be as fruitless as blindly imitating Jonathan Richman. Come to think of it, though, the songs from Bang Bang Rock & Roll sound pretty ridiculous on my solitary acoustic guitar.
- Pitchfork


While UK guitar rock continues to grow in popularity, one thing that's been in short supply as of late has been the kind of charismatic presence that draws us in past the choppy chords and disco beats. We already have a couple of dynamic frontmen in the form of Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Maximo Park's Paul Smith, but while the rest of the crowd, like the Futureheads, Bloc Party, and Kaiser Chiefs can churn out the post punk as well as anyone, if there's one flaw, it's that they all lack personality on record. Where's the attitude, the overbearing combination of arrogance and heart-on-the-sleeve sincerity that has the guys wanting to be them and the girls wanting to do them? Did Liam Gallagher, Robbie Williams, and Pete Doherty suck all that energy up? Well, there's no need to worry; as long as there are young Brits with amplified guitars slung around their shoulders, there will always be the odd few who come off as cheeky arseholes. And, bless 'em, Art Brut are the latest, a welcome change from the rather polite norm of recent years.

The London five-piece have already stolen many a heart with their snarky, boisterous debut Bang Bang Rock and Roll, but in all honesty, many people had Art Brut pegged as a flash in the pan before that album even came out this past May, thanks to their 2004 single "Formed a Band", one of the most hilarious, ridiculously lunkheaded tunes to emerge from the current UK "art wave" scene. "Look at us, we formed a band!" singer Eddie Argos hollers, completely taking the proverbial piss, but while the band might sound like a bunch of dumb kids having a laugh amongst themselves at first, it soon becomes apparent just how wickedly smart the song is. Constructed around a fabulous punk rock riff by guitarists Chris Chinchilla and Ian Catskilkin, Argos contradicts the pure rock glory of those chords, stating in his spoken voice, "And yes, this is my singing voice/ It's not irony/ And it's not rock and roll," when he knows full well it most definitely is. He goes on to flamboyantly state he'll be "the man who writes the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along", compose a tune that will become more ubiquitous than "Happy Birthday", and that they'll play it on Top of the Pops eight weeks in a row. A terrific, boisterously overblown statement from an unceasingly optimistic young garage band just starting out, the song seemed too perfect, too simple for the band to flesh the same formula out for an entire album. Right?

Well, any doubt cynics may have had in Art Brut was tossed out the window when the album's first single, "Emily Kane", surfaced this past April. A song as cute and charming as "Formed a Band" was audacious, it was written by Argos with the genuine hope that he could win back his girlfriend (yes, named Emily Kane) from 10 years prior. Over a snappy, Kinks-style arrangement, Argos sounds downright wistful as he muses about his 15-year-old crush ("We didn't understand how to do much more than just hold hands"), the indelible impression she left on him ("Every girl that I've seen since/ Looks just like you when I squint") and his resolve to write the Greatest Love Song Ever, so he could win her back for good ("I hope this song finds you fame/I want schoolkids on buses singing your name"). It's the kind of guitar pop genius that Stiff Records specialized in a quarter century ago, in the time-honored tradition of Wreckless Eric's "The Whole Wide World" and The Other Ones' "Another Girl, Another Planet", and ranks as one of the year's best singles.

As for the rest of the album, it holds up surprisingly well. "Good Weekend" sounds like a mixture of the Buzzcocks and vintage '60s soul, as Argos shamelessly flaunts the fact that he's got a "brand new girlfriend", hollering at one point, "I've seen her naked... twice!" "My Little Brother" heads into more of a harsher, early Clash direction, highlighted by the great line, "All we ever want is our parents to worry about us." Meanwhile, "Modern Art" dares to attempt the same acid-tongued sarcasm of The Fall, as Argos mercilessly lampoons the London art scene, and the silly "Moving to L.A.", has a starry-eyed Argos pondering a change in lifestyle, escaping the dreary English weather ("I think I've got it sorted/ I'm going to get myself deported"). The combination of Argos's continued faux-anti rock posing ("I can't stand the sound of the Velvet Underground") is wittily juxtaposed with a band performance that's every bit as ferocious as White Light/White Heat, the joke capped off by the inclusion of a screeching viola near the end.

This kind of meta-rock 'n' roll, pop eating itself style of songwriting has been done before (Television Personalities immediately spring to mind), but while Eddie Argos is certainly no Daniel Treacy, as he tends to lazily rely on repeated phrases instead of elaborating more (some songs, including "Bad Weekend" come off as sounding only half-written), Bang Bang Rock and Roll is still the mo - PopMatters


Discography

Albums: Bang Bang Rock and Roll (Downtown Records / Fierce Panda, 2006)

Singles: "Emily Kane," "Formed a Band," "My Little Brother," "Good Weekend"

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Art Brut formed some 18 months ago after singer Eddie Argos decided that he wanted to be in a band because he wants everybody to be in a band, and also because he wants to be a superstar. After deciding to form a band, he quickly recruited Ian Catskilkin (Guitar) and Freddy Feedback (Bass). The band was completed when they met drummer Mikey B on the back of a bus and Jasper Future (guitarist from Eddie’s old Band -Art Gobblins) joined a few months later. Five minutes after this happened (actually it may have been slightly longer than that) they had written their debut single ‘Formed A Band’. ‘Formed a band, we formed a band, look at us we formed a band’ they sang/shouted. ‘We’re going to be the band that writes the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along’ they said, and furthermore ‘We’re going to write a song as universal as Happy Birthday’. Rough Trade released it as a single, lots of people thought they were joking or being ironic but lots of people liked it anyway. It didn’t stop there though, they wanted everyone to form a band so that popular culture would mean more to them. They wanted people to set up franchise bands called Art Brut and they wanted those bands to cover their songs. Again, everyone thought they were joking.

After that, a lot of people were left thinking “how do you follow a single called ‘Formed A Band’ about forming a band?”. The answer is that you write a song called ‘Modern Art’ about being thrown out of art galleries and you get your fans to handpaint each individual 7” sleeve. Fierce Panda released it as a single, and it was one of the biggest selling ever. Lots of people liked it. By this time even their crazy dream of having Art Brut franchise bands was becoming a reality. NME saw them play at the single launch party for ‘Modern Art’ they remarked “Art Brut 17 are at the bar, Art Brut 4 are scuttling around the Barfly throwing pink paint about…Art Brut 138 are hiding in the corner”.

By the end of 2004 the band’s singles had found their way into many end of year polls including NME, Playlouder, John Peel’s Festive 50, ‘Formed A Band’ was even No 8 in Blender’s Top 100 Tracks of 2004. Eddie Argos had made an unlikely entrant in NME’s Cool List and the band were selling out venues the length and breadth of the country. After spending the first part of the new year in the studio with John Fortiss recording this album the band now find themselves in a position where Art Brut franchise bands are contributing b-sides to their new single ‘Emily Kane’ (May 2nd). Lots of people think they are still joking, they still might be, but Israel And Palestine are certainly getting on a lot better, though admittedly that might not be down to them. 2006 has seen the US release of Bang Bang Rock & Roll, with three additional songs. The band has crossed the country on two sold out tours and will be touring with We Are Scientists this fall.