Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Smoothing Out Some of the Quirks: We Are Scientists' Brain Thrust Mastery

Though California's We Are Scientists' sophomore album, Brain Thrust Mastery, was released last month, it somehow escaped my radar. It's like I knew it had to be coming some time soon, that it had been coming for some time now, but I still managed to miss it. I loved their major label debut album With Love and Squalor so much that maybe, on some subconscious level, I was afraid that they wouldn't be able to live up to it, so I just ignored that fact a second album was being released. With the departure of drummer Michael Tapper last year, I felt a bit let down - not that I would miss his particular drumming style, or even notice such a thing, it's just that the three members, including vocalist/guitarist Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain, seemed to come as one incredibly witty unit, and by leaving, he was disrupting it. However, now that I've actually decided to listen to Brain Thrust Mastery, I'm quite satisifed and can breathe a sigh of relief.

It seems that, for the majority of Brain Thrust Mastery, We Are Scientists have smoothed out the gangly angles of their first album into a waxy dancefloor and Murray's vocals have gone the way of fey, and at other times, the way of Paul Smith of Maximo Park. The album opens with Ghouls, a track that features some dour synthesizer, semi-robotic vocals from Murray and guitars that careen in and out before they crescendo in the last third of the song. The mood gets progressively sunnier. After Hours is like colours exploding and effervescing in your head, reminding me slightly of Maximo Park's The Coast is Always Changing, and Chick Lit is a fantastic dance tune that begins with a guitar line that could have been Arctic Monkeys but then carries on into something VHS or Beta would do. Chick Lit is also a song with one of the better lyrics on the album, including the line "We've got some sharp-tongue carrying on to do." Both After Hours and Chick Lit have been the chosen singles for release thus far, but Lethal Enforcer seems to be the one making its rounds on the blog circuit. It is definitely one of the catchier tunes on the album with its '80's New Wave feel and shimmying rhythm. Impatience feels like it has borrowed the driving background of Arcade Fire's Rebellion (Lies), but Murray's vibrato vocal takes the song into a different direction. Album closer, That's What Counts, is a breezy track with saxophone, not something I would expect from We Are Scientists, but it still gives me an enormous feeling of well-being - maybe because it makes me think of old sitcoms like WKRP in Cincinnati and Three's Company...good or bad thing, you be the judge.

Of all the new tracks, Tonight and Dinosaurs seem to be the closest to the older sound of choppier and jagged guitars used on With Love and Squalor. The weakest track, in my opinion, is Spoken For, a ballad that feels bland despite its build to passionate bursts halfway through. The lyrics, which seem to be largely based on relationship doubts, may be the one area that I'm not as impressed with this time round. The cheeky, often self-deprecating, wit of songs like The Great Escape, This Scene is Dead, and Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt from With Love and Squalor isn't as prominent this time. For an example of the potential of their weird and wonderful musings, see their Web site where they have an advice column (Example: "Question: What is the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? Answer: A muffin has a fish center. A cupcake has icing on top, and has a center of pork or boar. Muffins originated in France and are still considered a top-shelf delicacy in that country; meanwhile, Italians, who invented cupcakes, regard them as acceptable nourishment only for prisoners and cattle.").

So, it appears We Are Scientists have weathered the sophomore album quite well. Though not as instantly likeable for me as With Love and Squalor was, Brain Thrust Mastery is still a very enjoyable album. And though they've smoothed out many of their original quirks and edges, they thankfully haven't ironed out all their irony yet.

Chick Lit - We Are Scientists

Lethal Enforcer - We Are Scientists

That's What Counts - We Are Scientists

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