Art Brut – Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! (Alcopop! Records album, 2018)

“We’ve got a lead singer. Doesn’t really sing. Lives off his paintings. Got a flat in Berlin.”
– Art Brut, ‘Kultfigur’

Some seven years on from their last LP, much has changed for Art Brut. Two members from the original line-up, Jasper Future and Mike Breyer, have left, while enigmatic frontman Eddie Argos has various taken on the mantle of playwright, comic book writer, death’s door hospital patient, father and painter-for-hire.

Some seven years on from their last LP, much has stayed the same for Art Brut. Honestly, it’s like they never really went away. New drummer Charlie Layton, lately from The Wedding Present, and new guitarist Toby MacFarlaine have slotted so neatly into the Art Brut fold alongside original members Freddy Feedback (bass), Ian Catskilkin (guitar) and Argos that it’s like they always belonged here. The album was faithfully produced with Jim Moray, who also worked with Argos on his musical The Islanders, which was performed at Edinburgh’s Fringe in 2013.

Wham! Bang! Pop! Let’s Rock Out! is everything you want from an Art Brut record – the spiky, punk-informed, joyful guitar pop, the erudite non-sequitur-laden spoken observations of Eddie Argos, cheekily assimilated reference points (Lionel Richie, Phil Spector) and an ethos that’s simultaneously meticulously polished and chaotic by equal terms. In all of those many essential ways, the LP picks up precisely where Brilliant! Tragic! left off and that is a truly fantastic thing; sometimes you don’t realise you’ve missed something until it comes back, and that’s part of what this album charmingly represents, a continuation of something that should never have ever been allowed to fizzle out.

And yet, it also finds Art Brut somewhat changed. This is inevitable. We’re all seven years older, seven years wiser (whatever that is), seven years more experienced and probably seven years poorer. A lot can happen in seven years, and the turbulent upheaval of Argos’s personal life is unavoidably present in these songs. The album seems to pivot on the epic ‘Good Morning Berlin’. Here you find a Blur-ry swagger with antediluvian whistling and jangly ‘Country House’ guitar; it all sounds perfectly cheerful until there’s a slightly melancholy, wistful chord change on the bridge that coalesces into a concluding passage laden with regret, mournfulness and a sense of abject disbelief at the state that Argos finds himself in.

That sharp change in direction seems to reveal the catharsis at work on this album. The songs might sound as full of unbridled joy as they ever did, but here you find Argos working through everything from separation, coming to terms with sobriety, staring at hospital ceilings, watching someone you’ve spent intimate moments together shack up with someone else, and that heart-racing, sweaty-palmed excitement of falling in love all over again after years of comfortable coupledom. Yes, the delivery is unchanged, the wry humour is undiminished, but the content is infinitely more personal.

How you approach Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! depends on whether you want to spend too long thinking through the sentiment of Argos’s words; if you don’t, tracks like ‘Hooray’ or ‘She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit)’ or ‘Hospital’ just sound like fantastically refreshing power-pop tracks, replete with overamped guitars, glam handclaps, occasional Theremin-like synths, horns and dizzying levels of unstoppable energy. Spend a bit of time in their company and what you find is a band that’s quietly, subtly matured, but still capable of rocking out as if time stood still.

There’s a fire in my soul / I can’t put it out.” shouts Argos on the album’s irrepressible title track, and that says it all.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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White Witches – Heironymus Anonymous (AWAL album, 2018)

White Witches is a duo of Rory Lewarne, former frontman of the sorely-missed 2000s Mute act Pink Grease, and Piranha Deathray guitarist / keyboard player Jeremy Allen. For their debut album they’ve added the miscellaneous talents of ex-Art Brut drummer Mikey Breyer, Bourgeois & Maurice bassist Charlie Webb, Desperate Journalist vocalist Jo Bevan, and All Seeing I’s JP Buckle. Some six years in the making, Hieronymus Anonymous was recorded with Buckle at Jarvis Cocker’s basement studio and Dean Street studios in Soho.

Lewarne and Allen both grew up streets apart on the westernmost edges of Cornwall and describe White Witches as “dirty glam rock with a dystopian heart and a Cornish spirit”. The music here is wiry, brazen and full of nervous energy, infused with reverential flashes of Ziggy, Bolan, Ferry and the brothers Mael. Itchy guitar, clever lyrics and energetic kitwork combine together here into an album treading a tightrope between opaque fun-filled songs and seriously ominous themes, all fronted by Lewarne’s instantly familiar histrionics.

The album contains a whole host of highlights, from the theatrical melodrama of ‘Estella’ to the swirling basswork and sinewy riffery of ‘Sandcastles’, wherein Lewarne adopts a crazy falsetto amid music operating on the very edge of chaos. The title track is a strident, pathos-laden ode to a life well lived, while towering closing track ‘Savages’ blends the now-familiar White Witches sound with an undercurrent of synths and a rousing chorus amid an album of rousing choruses.

The pair claim that the album was a product of growing up in a way that being in a band like Pink Grease didn’t allow, while in Allen’s case it also involved dealing with life-limiting alcoholism; in spite of what should be, on paper, a relatively mature album, HeironymusAnonymous is bratty, irreverent, original and punk as fuck.

Listen to Heironymus Anonymous here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Art Brut – Pump Up The Volume (Mute / EMI single, 2007)


emi / labels / mute records (marketing) | dl | 11/02/2008

Is it so wrong, to break from your kiss to turn up a pop song?‘ is the ethical question posed by Art Brut‘s Eddie Argos on the third single to be taken from the band’s 2007 album, It’s A Bit Complicated. The song is an emotional, tender song that manages to merge youthful sexual experiences with a passion for records that seems to eclipse the singer’s interest in the former. Hence the question about whether it’s fine to be as focussed on the music coming from a radio as it is on the, ahem, job at hand. Throughout, Argos manages to paint a vivid image of teenage bedroom awkwardness while big, punked-up clanging guitar riffs and soulful harmonies dominate. The more I listen to Argos’s semi-spoken, semi-sung delivery, with all his clever double meanings and casual observations, the more I think of him as a poet rather than an accomplished indie band’s frontman. The answer to the question, by the way, seems to be a very firm ‘no’, judging by the reaction of the girl in the song.

Released as a single track download the year after the album was put out by Mute as part of EMI / Labels, like all of their material from this period it is no longer available on iTunes. Whether that’s anything to do with the band apparently not knowing it was even being put out is anyone’s guess. This is what Argos posted to the band’s website at the time: “It seems Art Brut have accidentally released a single. Yes, the rumours are true. But how could this happen, you may ask? Why were we not informed? Well, my friends, pick up any thread of incompetence and it will usually lead you to a record company. That’s right, it seems EMI have decided to release ‘Pump Up the Volume’ without informing either the band or myself, making any kind of widescale promotion rather difficult.”

Thanks to Z for help with the preparation for this review.

First posted 2012; re-posted 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Art Brut – Direct Hit (EMI / Mute single, 2007)


emi / labels / mute records (marketing) | 7″/cd/dl | 18/06/2007

‘Direct Hit’ was the second single to be taken from Art Brut‘s album It’s A Bit Complicated which was released and marketed by Mute as part of the Labels arrangement with their then-parent EMI. Packaged in a sleeve that evokes school maths lessons (designed by the band and Mute’s art director Paul A. Taylor), ‘Direct Hit’ was released as a 7″ and two-track CD; a digital release was probably also put out, but sadly has been removed from iTunes.

‘Direct Hit’ finds the band in feisty mood, spitting out faintly over-the-top AC/DC heavy guitar riffs that have no logical place on an indie record; Beach Boys wordless vocal harmonies blend in with frontman Eddie Argos‘s finest Colin Newman deadpan (‘here comes the really good bit,’ he says at one point, just like something straight off Wire‘s ‘Map Ref. 41N 93W’). There are also some rattling guitar interjections that wouldn’t go amiss on a mid-period Sonic Youth track, shouty chorus vocals, what sounds like a theremin, lots of instructions to get on the dance floor and move, and even some descriptions of social awkwardness. For a three minute song, that makes for a pretty busy little track and its relativel non-conformity gave some encouragement back in 2007 that perhaps the spirit of punk hadn’t been lost for good after all.

Across the CD and 7″ are two B-sides. ‘Dont Blame It On The Trains’ is an ode to staying in the house under a duvet, general laziness and snoozing the whole day away. ‘What am I doing this weekend? Avoiding phonecalls from all my friends,’ runs one of the best couplets on a track that has a musical palette that feels like Blur attempting a cover of The Velvets’ ‘Sister Ray’ in a ‘Parklife’ stylee. The It’s A Bit Complicated album includes a track called ‘Blame It On The Trains’ which is nothing like this. Over on the 7″, the fantastically-titled ‘I Want To Be Double A-Sided’ is an emotional paean to love and insecurity over a rough, garagey groove. Argos’s vocals were apparently recorded on a the tour bus by Mikey Breyer in a car park, all of which gives this the feel of a pencil sketch, and it’s all the more lovely as a result.

First published 2012; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Art Brut – Nag Nag Nag Nag (EMI / Mute single, 2006)


emi / labels / mute records (marketing) | 7″/cd

By rights, this isn’t actually a ‘Mute‘ record at all – it’s one of those EMI releases that Mute marketed, and so it doesn’t carry a Mute catalogue number. It formed part of EMI’s valuing of Mute as a vehicle for representing music from the indie underground, and it said much – to me – about the future direction of my favourite label at that time. It’s hard to listen to this rather angular slice of spiky guitar pop and find any other reference point within the Mute roster of years gone by with which to compare this, apart from maybe 13th Hour band Foil if you squint hard enough.

The Mute website proudly claimed that this single had one more ‘Nag’ than Cabaret Voltaire, which of course is totally true, but it seems like a pointless point of reference since Art Brut are the complete antithesis of the Cabs’ industrial ethic. But, criticisms aside, ‘Nag Nag Nag Nag’ is a brilliant example of why 2006/7 was a really exciting period for UK music. Art Brut specialised in acerbic, near-spoken word vocals from lead ‘singer’ Eddie Argos, dark guitar melodies and furious drumming. ‘Nag Nag Nag Nag’, whilst in its own way uplifting, is intense and relentlessly negative – ‘a record collection reduced to a mixtape‘ is just about the most dispirited thing I’d heard in a song since Joy Division, while also anchoring this into a distrust of the iTunes era.

B-side ‘I Found This Song In The Road’ continues the theme, finding Argos tapping thoughts into his phone and leaving ‘eighty messages saved and unsent‘; the ultimate act of digital cowardice perhaps, but cathartic nonetheless. Something in the delivery reminds me not just of Foil, but of Wire‘s Colin Newman, but there’s no denying that Art Brut were ploughing their own furrow back then and it was an exciting thing to hear.

First published 2006; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Art Brut – It’s A Bit Complicated (EMI / Mute album, 2007)


emi / labels / mute records (marketing) | lp/cd/dl | 25/06/2007

Art Brut‘s It’s A Bit Complicated was released and marketed by Mute as part of EMI / Labels. Consisting of Eddie Argos (vocals), Ian Catskilkin (guitar), Freddy Feedback (bass), Mikey Breyer (drums), and Jasper Future (guitar), Art Brut were a band unafraid to take musical cues from disparate parts of the rock music spectrum – metal, punk, ska, emotional power rock, you name it.

Their musical magpie tendencies were fronted by the truly original Argos, whose spoken vocals are both as punk as you can imagine while also having an unerring capacity for amusing couplets, wry observation and the sort of poetic musings that rarely find their way onto records, such as using late-running trains as an excuse for sleeping in; the closing track, ‘Jealous Guy’ – not the John Lennon song, just an opportunity to rob a good song title – finds an angsty, desperate Argos trying to wake up his girlfriend because he’s concerned that they don’t have sex any longer, getting manic and jealous that the same pattern didn’t emerge when she was with her ex. I can’t think of another band and vocalist capable of such dry, detached musing.

Elsewhere, there are preoccupations with pop music on the single ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and ‘Sound Of Summer’. The latter has a relaxed, laidback sound with a chorus that talks of making mixtapes, fetishising the act of pressing play and record, a process that pretty soon no-one will remember; in less optimistic fashion, there’s also negative talk about how all pop songs are about a boy meeting a girl but that the narrator’s life didn’t turn out that way. There’s also a small nod toward false optimism with a belief that taking the tabs out of a cassette will stop it getting recorded over. ‘Sound Of Summer’ links neatly to the single ‘Nag Nag Nag Nag’ which immediately follows, a song which is much less positive about reducing a record collection down to mere mixtapes; meanwhile, the Fratellis-esque ‘I Will Survive’ (another cheekily borrowed title) includes a line about selling a record collection just to pay for a party. Further cynicism comes through on ‘People In Love’ which finds Argos getting down on the whole love thing and its futility. ‘People in love lie around and get fat,’ he says in the song’s opening moments. Musically, ‘People In Love’ has nice Sixties references mixed in with dirty guitar. ‘Late Sunday Evening’ has a tidy Dexy’s ska-punk vibe – complete with brass from The Kick Horns (familiar from their contribution to Mute albums including Erasure‘s The Innocents) with ‘Love Cats’-esque jazziness. It makes for a refreshing, truly euphoric sound.

Two clear highlights emerge in the form of ‘St. Pauli’ and ‘Post Soothing Out’. The former features heavy, prominent bass from Freddy Feedback and Franz Ferdinand-style preposterous guitar riffs mixed in with raw, unbridled energy. ‘Sorry if my accent’s flawed / I learned my German from a 7″ record‘ is one of the best lines ever committed to a song, delivered in response to the chorus about punk music which is sung in faltering German. Like some of Graham Lewis‘s best lyrics, ‘St. Pauli’ jumps from one theme to another, here being a mix of talk about family, talk about love, and then the chorus about punk. ‘The kids don’t like it / What else can we do when the kids don’t like it?‘ ponders Eddie Argos with a shrug, all delivered over snarling effervescence. ‘Post Soothing Out’ possesses some truly fantastic riffs, as well as a few handclaps, and a mood that sits somewhere between joyfulness and breakup-inspired negativity.

It’s A Bit Complicated was produced by the band with Dan Swift, who had previously worked with The Futureheads, Snow Patrol and many others. The album would prove to be their only release for EMI / Labels / Mute, which may or may not have been something to do with EMI releasing the album’s third single, ‘Pump Up The Volume’, without any discussion with the band.

Originally published 2012; edited 2016.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence