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Art Brut: Not Complicated

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Named after the term coined by French artist, Jean Dubuffet, to describe art created by marginalized members of society—prisoners, loners, the mentally ill—Art Brut is a fun, funny punk/pop band from London, put together by its affable and clever frontman, Eddie Argos.

Originally from Bournemouth, England, Argos moved to London determined to start a band—and to appear someday on the popular (albeit now cancelled) UK music show, Top of the Pops (in the song “Bad Weekend,” he sings, “Sometimes it’s hard to stop when your heart is set on Top of the Pops”). Argos recruited the band’s original guitarist, Chris Chinchilla, at a party they were both attending (Chinchilla has since left and been replaced by Jasper Future). After the pair convinced Chinchilla’s flatmate, Frederica, to play bass, they purchased a bass guitar for her on eBay. Argos then asked friend Ian Catskilkin to play guitar, and recruited drummer Mickey B after hearing about him through word-of-mouth. In May 2003, Art Brut was officially formed. 

The new group played random gigs and produced a few demos (called Brutlegs) which they posted on their website. The label Rough Trade took notice and released their first single, “Formed a Band” (“Formed a band! We formed a band! Look at us! We formed a band!”) in March 2004. With its cheeky lyrics and Argos’s talk-singing (“And yes, this is my singing voice. It’s not irony. And it’s not rock and roll. I’m just talking to the kids”), audiences either loved it or loathed it—the loathers dismissing Art Brut as jokesters. The song made it on to several year-end “best of” lists; and their high-energy, crowd-pleasing live performances (which include hilarious stage banter and anecdotes delivered by the charismatic, self-deprecating Argos) confirmed Art Brut as a serious band.

Their debut album, Bang Bang Rock and Roll was released in May 2005. Constant touring won the band an increasing number of fans. Performing at Coney Island’s Siren Festival in July 2006, Argos won over the notoriously cool New York crowd; Art Brut ended up stealing the show with upbeat music, funny lyrics, and topics New Yorkers could relate to. 

“Formed a Band” is about just that—forming a band and making music (“I want to be the boy, the man, who writes the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along”). “Emily Kane” laments the girlfriend Argos had when he was fifteen (“Other girls went and other girls came. I can’t get over my old flame. I’m still in love with Emily Kane. Every girl I’ve seen since looks just like you when I squint … I hope this songs finds you fame. I want school kids on buses singing your name”); “My Little Brother” complains about music snobs (“He no longer listens to A-sides. He made me a tape of bootlegs and B-sides”); “Rusted Guns of Milan” bemoans impotence (“I know I can, I know I can. I’m fine when I am with my own hand … It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, one more try with me above you”); “Good Weekend” celebrates a “brand new girlfriend” (“I’ve seen her naked twice! I’ve seen her naked twice!”); and “Bang Bang Rock and Roll” critiques the state of rock music (“I can’t stand the sound of the Velvet Underground … No more songs about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s boring!”).

Their sophomore album, It’s a Bit Complicated, is scheduled for release in June 2007. The band posted five of its songs on their website, and listening to them, it’s clear that their second album will be just as enjoyable as their debut. All the songs are lively and feature great guitar melodies, but the two stand-out tracks are “Pump Up the Volume,” a funny, bouncy number that contemplates romantic etiquette (“I know I shouldn’t, and it’s possibly wrong to break from your kiss to turn up a pop song”) and “Post Soothing Out,” about a rocky relationship (“Every day is just like starting over, we try so hard but we keep on falling over … You’re worried and I have my doubts, but I’m drunk when I text so I send post soothing out”); the latter song contains one of the catchiest guitar riffs I’ve heard in a long time.

Art Brut is often compared to Wire or The Fall, but what sets this band apart from these two and all others is its ability to make fans dance and laugh simultaneously. Now that’s “a bit complicated!”

Photo courtesy of Art Brut


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