As an American, liking Art Brut in 2009 was about as simultaneously nerdy and hipster as being into British shows like Spaced or Louis Theroux documentaries. Remind you, this is pre-Sherlock phenom. Actors like Matt Berry weren’t being given full weekly articles just because we can.
Looking back twelve years, Art Brut vs. Satan holds up incredibly well. Unfortunately for Art Brut being timeless in an age of nostalgia and hyper-pastiche doesn’t work to their advantage. The songwriting is straight forward and stripped down. Vocal metres are occasionally emphasized by syncopated stabs, unifying the band’s effort throughout the album. The band’s unification lends itself perfectly to building emotional potency, especially over the course of Art Brut’s long build ups. The Replacements (a song about The Replacements) ends with a stacking of Gregorian-esque backing vocals under singer Eddie Argos hysterics over choosing between cheaper secondhand CDs or reissue CDs (extra tracks, mind you).
Vs. Satan is closed off with the lengthy Mysterious Bruises, a relatively funky and lonely song about a lost night out. Its on-and-off soft choruses and punchier verses is reminiscent of The Pixies, which is appropriate as the album was produced by Pixies frontman Black Francis.
“Our songs are true stories and I wanted to do them once or twice and record them because you’ll lose that sincerity if you do that again and again and again. After we realized we wanted to do that we asked ‘who is the expert at doing that?’ and came up with Frank Black because that’s how he did all of the (Frank Black and the) Catholics’ albums. And also, he’s cool and we wanted to hang out with him. ‘What excuse could we use to hire Frank Black?’ And then he said that he liked us, so we signed him up.” – Eddie Argos in an interview with Three Imaginary Girls blog. You can read an archived version of the interview here.
Argo’s spoken delivery is often compared to the late Mark E Smith, but is distinguished by a greater sense of emotional urgency. On vs. Satan, Argos delivers lines of daily mediocrity, yet sells the listener on existential joys and cultural ponderings. Nothing embodies the antithesis of rock behemoths Led Zeppelin and Kiss more than Art Brut, and what’s more punk than that?
In many ways, the music culture gripes expressed throughout Art Brut vs. Satan got me thinking about music in the way I do now. This album was released right before I entered highschool. I was at my peak interest in Primus, Gwar, and dime-a-dozen rockabilly bands. So on midway track Demons Out! when Argos begs “how can you sleep at night when nobody likes the music we like?” Well, it felt like he was speaking directly to my angry middle-schooler self.
They’re not on Bandcamp yet, but maybe one day they will be. Till then, you can buy the album on iTunes or search for it on Spotify.
For fans of: Kaiser Chiefs, Psychedelic Furs, Richard Hell & The Voidoids