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Monday, August 29, 2011

Friday: Art Brut Thanks Tapes 'n Tapes for Being Able to Fill the Independent

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2011 at 7:08 AM

Tapes 'n Tapes
Art Brut
The Chain Gang of 1974

To resort to the old say-nothing dodge that got me through all high-school term-paper writing, Friday night at the Independent was a study in contrasts. But real ones, revealing the curious breadth of today's indie rather than some horseshit whipped up to fill the five-paragraph form. First there came the intense, odd-angled, epic-yet-insular itch-rock of Tapes 'n Tapes, a dynamic and agile combo whose songs always zig then zig and then zig again before you've even had a chance to think they might zag. 

Then there was blundering 'ol Art Brut, a piss-take grown into a band, as swaggering as Tapes 'n Tapes is cerebral, as on the wane as Tapes' n Tapes is on the rise. Seriously, Eddie Argos -- the Art Brut guy who makes each record a stream-of-consciousness audio book backed by loud and sloppy rock and roll -- thanked Tapes 'n Tapes a couple songs in for being big enough to fill the place. (This was Art Brut's fourth turn at the Independent, he announced, and then he said that, for once, instead of making a joke about there being nobody in the crowd, he was just going to thank the headliners.)


He shouldn't have had to. Things move so fast these days that Art Brut -- just four albums in -- is in full late-career renaissance mode, storming the stage with rare command and power, each chord a toothsome slop-rock crunch, each bass note thudding in your bowels, and each song seemingly about the state of Art Brut.

Since songs about the state of Art Brut are pretty much the point of Art Brut, it works, especially since, live, the band seizes you by the scruff the way its recorded output doesn't. Like the great Too Much Joy and The Hold Steady before them, Art Brut is fronted by a dude who can't/won't sing. Live, though, Argos' spoken vocals -- sometimes shouted, sometimes yowled, often wheedling -- were mixed so much lower than on the band's records that they no longer seem make-or-break. 

Relieved of the burden of getting all the words across, they let the music take over, banging out their fucked-up, post-punk, drink-along stompers with such gutsy abandon that it's impossible to believe Argos' claim -- on 2009's Art Brut vs Satan-- that he only just found out about the Replacements.

Some ten minutes in, over a shaggy breakdown that endearingly lost its way,  Argos recounted the critical consensus of his own band's history: a first record that everybody loved, a second that went meh, a third that was a minor return to form, and now now. That's so true it could be Art Brut's All Music profile. The fourth (called Brilliant! Tragic!; check out "Bad Comedian") is right in line with the third, to my ears, but there's something more vital in its hanging-in-there feel, a mood Argos emphasized at the Independent. Just eight years since he first hit with "We Formed a Band," Argos bellows (on "In Dog Ears") "I'm still here! I'm still here!" like he's one of the seen-it-all vaudevillians in Sondheim's Follies. You are, man, and you're better the more frustrated you get.

Also still here (but seemingly un-frustrated) is Tapes 'n Tapes, who are to Art Brut what some complex Etsy embroidery project is to a bar napkin someone scribbled "Fuck off" on. A bit arty, not given to expressions of rage or horniness, and best taken live, when you can concentrate, or in deep headphone listening, this Minneapolis four piece knocks out airy, unsettled, mutable rock distinguished by ace musicianship and a willingness to lunge for the big finish.  

Especially impressive is Jeremy Hanson's elliptical drum patterns. Above and beyond the steady thump the songs demand, he layers eccentric, loop-like figures -- shapes that always have a couple angles nobody else would have thought of. It's like the walk cycle of some six-legged Pixar dog, or like you multiplied what Terry Andrews came up with for "Making Plans for Nigel" times what Janet Weiss came up with for "One Beat.

I'm thinking in math terms because, at times, Tapes 'n Tapes sounds like the world's smartest kids solving a two column proof with rock songs. But then, just before they drift into the obscurantist indie ether, Josh Grier will -- with a phrase or a chord -- urge the song someplace new. 

It's rare to see such skilled, inventive, daring musicians so attuned to the emotions that their music can stir. Like the best tracks on their records, live Tapes n Tapes is intense, bewildering, and deeply satisfying. But it's also a touch tightly wound -- which means that the explosive blurt of Art Brut (who followed) complemented better than  would have expected.

The Chain Gang of 1974 (from Denver) opened with synth-punk electro pop that -- for the two songs I heard -- sounded so good I thought they might be covers I couldn't place. That's a compliment: Komatin Mohager has built a sounds-like-the-80s-but-kinda-better band that could have been contenders in the honest-to-God '80s.

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