Barbara, track by track

6 Aug

So if you weren’t aware, We Are Scientists will be playing two of my favorite American cities soon with Bad Veins.

Aug. 12th
Record Bar
10 PM, $12, 18+


Aug. 15th
Brillobox
(w/ locals Satin Gum!)
10 PM, $13, 21+

1. Rules Don’t Stop

It’s their first single off the album, and there’s a reason why–the quick tempo, swift guitar picking, funky bass and vocal verses don’t play games when it comes to telling the listener what the deal is. Apparently Rules Don’t Stop We Are Scientists, and that is the extent of what we are told, until we reach the bridge. There, Keith intimates that the rules are meant to put a leash on unacceptable behavior, and he wants none of that. In fact, he tells the listener that breaking the rules isn’t a mistake because it makes us “so damn happy.” Really? If this song is meant to be an anthem, why do the lyrics make me feel so naïve when I sing them (which I inevitably do because the instrumentation is pretty catchy)? And the answer is not, “Because this song is not meant to be an anthem.”

2. I Don’t Bite

Every time I hear this song I feel like Keith might say “It’s pretty clear we’ll get along, it’s pretty clear we’ll get it ON!!!!” but instead he states that he “don’t bite.” My mind is not in the gutter; the clever syntax and rhythm of the line plays me for a fool, as if I should keep singing, and then there’s my freudian slip. Also, notice in the beginning that great finger slide action going on, reminiscent of Under the Sea recordings. Andy’s toms sound very nice during the chorus as well. Unfortunately, Chris’s bass isn’t written as perky as it usually sounds.

3. Nice Guys

I think this song made a good second single, because–even though We Are Scientists might not admit it–Nice Guys panders to fans of their older work by foraging back into pop punk. The song could easily join the ranks of Bomb Inside the Bomb, Secret Handshake, and Easy Kill. Chris’s bassline and Keith’s guitar also combine for a great harmony in the intro, outro, and during the chorus, while Andy beats the shit out of his kit. Keith’s lick during the bridge sounds sweet and continues the urgency of how much the band really “want it more.”

4. Jack & Ginger

If there’s one track off of Barbara that could get on a time machine and tell With Love & Squalor what is up, it’s this song. With the exception of the beeping and “strings” synth layered in the background, in addition to the guitar tone during the chorus, the composition really takes me back–especially when it hits that twelve seconds of frenetic dance-rock goodness towards the end of the song. Jack & Ginger also acts as their ultimate bar romance song to date, though Worth the Wait is a strong contender; this song is a little less depressing than Worth the Wait, however, so I give it the laurels.

5. Pittsburgh

The war-like drums and heavy bass set an intimidating mood for this song, but then Keith sings about sneaky flirting and that ruins it for me. What a “rupture in etiquette,” a real boner kill. I don’t like this song, but everyone else does so I’m not going to write about it. Before I go, though, I’ll slight it some more–the guitar parts are boring. The vocal melodies are too redundant. Also, the way the lyrics are arranged makes me think that the “one thing” is sex, and then I’m all “Oh cool. A shallow song that’s entitled ‘Pittsburgh.’ How disenchanting.” One positive observation I shall admit–this song would probably sound gorgeous if played acoustic, with just a piano.

6. Ambition

This track builds on We Are Scientists’ conceptual songwriting skills by imparting the slight feelings of discomfort and angularity referenced in Keith’s lyrics onto the listener, partially through skewing the pitch of the guitar during the second verse. Chris’s bass takes a sludgy route and his basslines during the bridge have personality. The vocal melody for the chorus disappoints me, once again. The syncopation from the verse just goes there to die.

7. Break It Up

This song reminds me of a continual obsession with video games by acting as the perfect soundtrack for cruising the world map with a naval battalion; it also rewrites themes from This Scene Is Dead by questioning partying if it’s not a means for “[being] up all night.” Bouncy basslines, solid drumming, and little “oohs” spruce up bummer lyrics into the most chipper sounding ditty. The fleeting bass during the chorus doesn’t hurt either.

8. Foreign Kicks

Shares WAS-world with earlier slow rock ballads like “Textbook” and “Spoken For,” but the guitar tone and bobbing bass have a sort of beachside feel to them. Yet, where “Spoken For” changes up the rhythm dramatically and “Textbook” profits from diverse drumming as well as a soulful chorus, “Foreign Kicks” remains as an unassuming creature and doesn’t stand out as much as it could when you take into consideration the talents of the band. I dislike the way the guitar twinkles during the verses and it really pains me to say this, but the vocal harmonies from “The Method” were better. The buildup to the last refrain of the chorus underwhelms me, and then the song ebbs away.

9. You Should Learn

My first thought when I hear this song is, “Why does the guitar have to play the same notes as the vocals during the chorus?” And then during the bridge, Keith plays the same boring riff from where he sings “learn” over and over again, even though I feel like transitional elements should be throwing something new out there. Chris’s bass and Andy’s drumming carry the whole song. With that being said, I still really like it.

10. Central AC

There’s really only one song on Barbara that succeeds at incorporating a great vocal harmony. Coincidentally enough, Central AC also displays the best of Andy Burrows’s drumming ability. Contrary to what Christopher Walken thinks, the triumph results from the three musicians’ concentrated effort at sharing the one hundred and eighty two second limelight, not from the occasional tap of cowbell. The pop-driven chorus, the vocal tempo change (“Hey, let’s take it easy for a night…”), and sweet shredding bring the house down. Hot. Damn.


Before you leave, check out this great live show review: http://popwreckoning.com/2010/08/01/a-two-state-spanning-we-are-scientists-extravaganza/. Also, do not take my sourpuss review as an excuse to not see the show. As Abby proves in the link above, We Are Scientists are still a force to be reckoned with.

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2 Responses to “Barbara, track by track”

  1. Adrian August 19, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    how did I miss this? I can’t believe I hadn’t read this till now. I fail miserably.

    obviously, I don’t agree with most of this review because I am so in love with Barbara. but I sill really loved this review. most of the time, if I don’t agree with a review I just get all huffy and go listen to Barbara, but I really enjoyed this one. even out of the reviews I did agree with, I still enjoyed this one more. you sound like you actually know what you’re talking about and like you’re genuinely interested in how this album sounds, and when I disagreed with you, you had me second-guessing myself.

    plus the harshest bits had me laughing so loudly that I was worried I was going to wake someone up.

    basically, Mahsa, I want to have your babies.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Barbara is out this week! « What's the Word - August 16, 2010

    […] Gigawave – Long-time friend to What’s the Word, Mahsa, wrote a track-by-track review of Barbara at her site. I’m not even going to do the whole snippet thing here ‘cuz you should read the whole thing. […]

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