The Arctic Monkeys
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
That was my first thought when the opening track on Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not kicked in.
This record is insane. Lit up. The Arctic Monkeys deserve every single page of press that they’ve received and more.
Everything on the LP is spot on. The vocal melodies. The way that the guitars burn, melding pop with hard rock and real punk. The incredibly tight rhythm section. The production (which is truly top notch). The intelligent, passionate, charged lyrics.
Take the first single, “I Bet You Look Good on Dance floor.” It opens with a sound that is reminiscent of Fugazi in its prime. The verse relies on a clean tone punk riff. The chorus shines and makes you want to do way more than dance. And there’s just enough snottiness in the vocals to make the singsong refrain palatable.
In fact, while I’m writing this and blasting Whatever People Say – I can’t remember ever feeling this joyous, this inspired while listening to a record before.
The Monkeys have it. In spades.
Driving it all home is the fact that this LP defies all genre categorization. There’s a bit of the Smiths and a bit of the Clash and a bit of the Buzzcocks and Supergrass, but nothing so overt that it comes anywhere near sounding retro.
Furthermore, the Monkeys, with this single LP, completely obliterate anyone else in the “hip” rock music scene right now. They make Franz Ferdinand sound like pretentious, self-obsessed snobs, Death Cab for Cutie sound like total whiners, any and every emo (ugh) band sound like a bad joke.
What is so mind-boggling about Whatever People Say – is how it manages to do the impossible. It’s confrontational and aggressive – a brilliant reminder to die before you get old. But it’s also oh-so-danceable and catchy. Each track has enough chord and tempo changes that you’ll find yourself staring at your stereo as you earnestly try and figure the song’s structure out. Yet, each track also has at least two parts that instantly get stuck in your head, ringing around like pinballs.
Man alive. “Perhaps Vampires is a Bit Strong but -” just came on. This shit is hot!
I think my stereo is on fire.
“‘Cause all you people are vampires, and all your stories are stale. And though you pretend to stand by us, you’re certain we’ll fail.”
The Arctic Monkeys just one-upped Pete Townshend.
The Knife is Swedish brother-sister duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, who make increasingly bizarre synth-pop best described as a gothic Ladytron. If you’ve never heard of Ladytron, it’s best described as some seriously creepy disco music.
The Knife use a lot of the tricks favored by disco and house producers, including ping-ponging certain sounds (that means making the sound jump from the left to the right speakers and back again), playing things in reverse, and pitch-shifting their vocals. But unlike most house music, The Knife are using these tricks to create a creepy claustrophobic effect that reminds me of goth groups like Dead Can Dance.
This is best exemplified in the first five songs on Silent Shout. From the title track to “Na Na Na,” The Knife create a haunting form of house music that’s made even more strange by the fact that you can barely hear what lead vocalist Karin is singing. On “Neverland,” the most audible line is “Where is the monkey I expected?” Now, I don’t know about you, but a strange synth-pop song about the Neverland Ranch is guaranteed to give me chills.
On “The Captain,” my personal favorite track, two minutes of eerie reverse tones slip in and out of the mix, as if the subject of the song is lost at sea. When the big 808 drums kick in, the duo’s vocals are pitch-shifted so high they sound like trolls. The only audible lines I can hear are “We have all this water/We turn the other cheeks with the wind.” That these two lines sound somehow chilling and sad at the same time is a testament to The Knife’s abilities.
But Silent Shout gets weaker when the Dreijers abandon their vocal trickery. On tracks like “Marble House” and “From Off to On,” Karin sounds like Debut-era Bjork minus the charm. Though the music is still icy and eerie, finally hearing what she’s singing is a huge disappointment.
The duo aren’t talented enough lyrically to match the words to the tone of the music, with the result being a batch of silly songs with lines like “When the light finds my eyes/I’ll be fleeting like a scent” and “We won’t wait much longer/ We want our happiness back.”
And while electronic music artists aren’t know for their lyrical deftness, the latter half of Silent Shout goes a long away in sucking the mystique right out of the first half.
But I expect that the more conventional songs might grow on me. Most likely the group wasn’t completely comfortable making an album entirely made up of songs with inaudible vocals. But they could have at least sequenced the album so that the more experimental tracks were mixed with the more poppy ones.
As is, the album requires those who like the weird songs to stop the album halfway through, while those who prefer the conventional synth-pop songs have to skip the first five tracks.
Despite my reservations, I’m still recommending Silent Shout. It’s not often (or not often enough) that I hear a group using cheesy studio effects to such intriguing and dramatic ends. The Knife manage to make icy electronic music that’s also emotional and that’s always a cool thing.