11
May
09

The Anti-Band: Art Brut’s Art Brut vs. Satan

art_brut-vs-satan

When Eddie Argos and Co released their first album back in 2005, I was thrilled. The sharp wit, the quirky, shouty vocals, and the overall sense of play was refreshing. Then, as with many of the bands I like, I lost track of them. I discovered they had released a second album far after it actually released and then I regretfully had to miss them live when they came through Winnipeg (I had just moved to Waterloo at the time). Apparently, after their sophomore album’s release, Art Brut parted ways with EMI, and their Frank Black-produced third album, Art Brut vs. Satan, just released a few weeks ago via Downtown in the US and Cooking Vinyl in Europe. The band is named after Jean Dubuffet’s definition of outsider art, and being the consummate outsider my whole life, I naturally enjoy their art…brut. There’s also something absolutely unique about their music because they pair rather angular, jerky guitar music with Argos’s choppy, speaking vocal delivery; his “singing” isn’t quite rhythmic enough to be rapping, it’s more like being talk-shouted at by someone with Tourettes. But I love it. And the vocals and matter-of-fact stories filtered through Argos’s singular brain lift Art Brut above other quirky, literate rock bands.

The record opens with lead-off single Alcoholics Unanimous, a tale of drunken amnesia that alternates between staccato and cascading guitars while the drums smash away. Argos demands “Bring me tea, bring me coffee” as a chorus of backing vocals emulate friend witnesses to drunken debauchery and sing “We tried to warn you.” Then comes one of my favourite tracks on the album: DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake. I, myself, am not all that familiar with comics and I’ve only read a very few, but I do happen to know a relatively high number of friends and acquaintances who are hardcore comic fans. This probably says something about me. Through these comic obsessives, I’ve generally gleaned that Marvel is considered better and more popular than DC. With my meagre exposure to the finer details of superhero lore, I would have to say that my “favourite” is Batman, who I’m told is from the DC side. It’s not exactly a shock that I would somehow pick the less popular side, but I’m in good company with Argos. He writes an entire song about his love for DC comics and chocolate milkshake as jagged guitar riffs poke out of a rich, groovy bassline. As he states “I guess I’m just developing a bit late” and specifically refers to Peter Pan Syndrome and arrested development, I can heartily relate. I feel like I may have stopped maturing mentally at about 20 years old. And out of all milkshakes, I would choose chocolate.

Yet another song I can relate to is The Passenger, which is not an Iggy Pop cover, but instead a paean to public transport. I don’t have a driver’s licence, which usually makes me a pariah, or at best, a pathetic weirdo, especially in the North American car culture and Canadian vast distances. I’m just not a natural operator of vehicles and I don’t enjoy driving as practical as it would be in my location. And if the public transportation system in my city was as good as ones I’ve been on in other parts of the world, I likely wouldn’t consider getting my licence at all. Argos calls himself a “determined passenger” with a love for buses and trains against scratchy guitar and driving bass. Next, Argos dissects his nervous state approaching a girl in Am I Normal?. The music itself is rather smooth, melodic and laidback while Argos mutters and bellows over it. The music gets more abrupt and nervy as Argos states “I can’t take another false start/So this will be a broken heart” and then vice versa, imitating the scattered brain process of the self-conscious. Another drunken and/or drugged misadventure is related in What a Rush, in which Argos wakes up naked with a girl, who is equally naked. The wild, straining backing vocals complement the utterly crazy headrush of the song. The gap in Argos’s memory is demonstrated by the wonderful couplet “There’s a scene missing/We were seen kissing.”

The title for the album comes from the song, Demons Out!, which ultimately compares the record-buying public with Beelzebub. Through the tongue lodged in his jowl, Argos laments “How am I supposed to sleep at night when no one likes the music we write?,” yet there’s an honest vindictiveness to the track as well. There’s a frantic energy of the guitars in tandem that bubbles nicely as Argos declares “The record-buying public shouldn’t be voting,” a thought I’ve had many a time as more and more music competition shows flood TV like detritus and the music charts reflect some sort of rabbit hole of mediocrity. Argos cements his role as leader of the outsiders in his crusade against the mundane mainstream public that only frustrates his troupe of weirdos. The next three tracks also deal with various facets of music and music fandom. Slap Dash For No Cash is a fantastic tribute to lo-fi production with its imperfections like background noise and fingers on the fretboard. Some of my favourite lines on the record appear in this song, including “Why would you want to sound like U2?” and “Cool your warm jets, Brian Eno.” The following song, The Replacements, recounts more of Argos’s musical affinities, this time expressing a sentiment I’m sure all music fans have felt at some point: the wonder at how you could have been unaware of such an important band for so long and the amount of time you missed out on them. In Argos’s case, it’s Paul Westerberg’s much-loved band. At the same time, Argos expresses the doubt and distrust fostered over years of being let down by bands (yet another emotion a music fan would be familiar with), and as a crescendo builds, his music obsessive dilemma escalates: “Secondhand CDs are cheaper/Reissued CDs, extra tracks.” I have been in that exact situation many a time – sometimes opting for both. A tight, danceable groove kicks in for Twist and Shout, which is not a cover of The Beatles, but instead, a look into Argos’s songwriting process, which seems just as haphazard as the rest of the narratives of his life. Accented with off-key “la-la’s,” the song has a chorus in which Argos says “I didn’t mean to twist and shout/Something slipped and it just popped out.” When something slips for me and/or pops out, it definitely isn’t going to be a hit song.

Coming back to the theme of freedom and perhaps immaturity, the next track, Summer Job, relates the dream of having a temporary, low-commitment summer job rather than a regular career. The record ends with the rather epic seven-and-a-half-minute-long Mysterious Bruises, in which Argos wakes covered in bruises and no memory of his doings the previous night. You start to get the distinct feeling that Argos has a habit of forgetting the night before. At this point, I would like to use Argos’s own words about the effect of drugs on him via his brilliant blog The Eddie Argos Resource:

When I was about 16. I ate quite a lot of pot. I didn’t smoke at the time and thought eating it would be a brilliant idea. It wasn’t. I ate far too much and it was very strong.

I spent the night walking around Bournemouth as a floating head, worried that I was going to accidentally forget to breath. I was convinced everybody on the bus home was whispering about me and to be fair they probably were.

I dressed like Robin Hood at the time and a boy sat at the back of the bus in a trilby hat with a feather sticking out of it ,wearing a green velvet jacket, whispering ‘dont forget to breathe’ to himself and then occasionally saying ‘AM I SAYING THIS ALOUD? very loudly, to himself, probably had a few people on the bus whispering.

To this day I’m convinced Marylin Manson tucked me into bed that night conveniently putting a bucket by my head and ‘The Flaming Lips’ on the record player to help me sleep […]

On my 21st Birthday as a present some friends who didn’t know my history of not handling pot very well spiked my drink. To this day I’m not sure what it was with, definitely something a bit stronger than cannabis though.

I was intending on staying out all night. I ended up walking home and what should have been an hours walk took about 5 hours. My mind had completely broken. I was convinced I’d been hypnotised into injecting heroin (obviously not true) and that all my friends had swapped faces and were out to get me. It wasn’t very much fun. The fear lasted for months. I saw images of Jasper floating above my bed. I convinced myself everyone was poisoning me and I would only eat food I had prepared. I once thought I’d been hypnotised into turning my own kidneys into a pie for a television programme watched by Eastern European gangsters. I thought my phone had been bugged and everyone was laughing at me. I once had to leave a party early because I thought they were going to spray heroin out of the walls. I convinced myself the only way to get better was to dance it off and spent hours dancing alone in my bedroom. None of this was good.

The latter story apparently was the inspiration for the free-download bonus track called Werid Science, which I’ve included for download at the end of this post…and which isn’t a cover of the Oingo Boingo song. However, the same story could explain Mysterious Bruises, where Argos “fought the floor, but the floor won.” And I don’t know about you, but there is often a mysterious quality about bruises. People always seem to say “I don’t know how I got this bruise.” The music itself takes you into the headspace of a person in Argos’s position; at first, it feels empty and spacey with minimal guitars and silence, and eventually it starts chugging along like a muddled mind slowly remembering and then regretting as the music slows and creeps up like a coolish dawning.

Art Brut has delivered another witty, hilarious record perfect for those of us who identified so wholly with Pulp’s Misshapes. Unabashed in his geekdom, Eddie Argos continues to have the knack for describing the familiar in terms that most people couldn’t. Art Brut isn’t only outsider art; they seem to turn art inside out, exposing pieces that normally wouldn’t be seen nor considered art. In a way, Art Brut is an anti-band that both mirrors actual, everyday experience, but also kicks against it. Art Brut is a banner I can get behind; if Art Brut is with us, who can be against us?

DC Comics and Chocolate Milk Shake – Art Brut

Slap Dash For No Cash – Art Brut

Weird Science – Art Brut

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2 Responses to “The Anti-Band: Art Brut’s Art Brut vs. Satan”


  1. 1 Rol
    May 13, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Argos’s vocal technique is perfectly summed up on the first album…

    “And yes, this is my singing voice – it’s not irony, it’s not rock ‘n’ roll… we’re just talking to the kids.”


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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