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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v6n19 (05/10/2007) » Section: Left of the Dial

Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare

If you believe Paul Weller is England’s rock laureate post-1977, take heed that even the Modfather—a genuinely tough critic—has been recently adding to the chorus of praise for sensations Arctic Monkeys. It’s understandable. Much like Weller’s fabled trio the Jam, the Monkeys have seemingly grappled the formidable task of seizing just enough of Blighty’s rich rock-and-roll tradition while turning it on its side, gutting and rebuilding it to their liking. The band are blistering, cutting, clever and uniquely English. Even more like Weller, that has made Arctic Monkeys grow to sensational proportions in England but lets them remain something of a niche delicacy Stateside. That is unlikely to change as—yet again like Weller—they make no attempt to pander to anyone, and their witty and utterly listenable sophomore release wears that like a badge of honor. Favourite Worst Nightmare is an unclassifiable mélange of varied rock sounds basking in crushing riff rock, rhythmic pop and roll, downbeat and nervy, dancey post-punk. “Brianstorm” a broiling, high-paced, herky-jerky tour de force where Alex Turner takes shot at this “Brian,” who could a surrogate for every big-talking scenester, sniping, “Well see you later/Innovator.” The twitchy funk speeder “Teddy Picker” thrashes against the heavy meddle of the media and its deification of the hollow celebrity. “Fluorescent Adolescent” is bold and Arctic Monkeys through and through. Just a little way into the album, the band decides to exert their dodgy charm with what sounds like a ramshackle live recording. This is the kind of thing most might bury as a b-side but not here, and that’s the beautiful, against-the-grain attitude of Arctic Monkeys. Bless ’em for it. The lads look to keep the listener putting scratches into the woodwork with a bumpy ride, almost trying to scare them off. It’s really more of a red herring, though, and even through the shoddy nature of the recording—with audience conversations louder than the band at points—“Fluorescent Adolescent” shines as a loopy and infectious slice of pop. The beautiful “Only One Who Knows” sounds more like a late night/last call lament that you’d find on a record by fellow Yorkshire singer Richard Hawley. The surf-rock-feeling “Do Me a Favour” plays like a nourish, hardboiled detective narrative as Turner proclaims “curiosity becomes a heavy load/Too heavy to hold.” The monolithic beating rhythm and pummeling guitar that “Old Yellow Bricks” centers on is somewhat reminiscent of White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” but ultimately shifts all over the place for this meditation on “escapology” and the ultimate lesson that “Dorothy was right.” Favourite Worst Nightmare takes so many chances and proves a stunning and dynamic listen front to back. As much as it’s a cliché, Arctic Monkeys have truly made a record that sounds like their own. As Weller tells the most recent issue of Mojo, “You can’t compare them to anything that’s gone before.”

The Hold Steady: Live at Fingerprints EP

A live acoustic record from the Hold Steady? Heresy, you say? It’d be understandable if you did. The very notion of this Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis band captured in concert conjures up hollered vocals, furiously stacked beats and amp dials pushed to ten. Their propensity for loud and live propulsion—going off like some kind of Thin Lizzy fuelled on the sounds of American hardcore—is what has made them legendary in just a few short years of existence. Singer/lyricist Craig Finn’s sharply turning stories of hard-partying exiles from religion and suburbia are the stuff that lay on the thickness of that status. So the test here is whether or not Finn’s anthemic homilies to booze and racehorses and love’s hard luck can hold up in front of a hushed Hold Steady. Indeed, with touches like Franz Nicolay’s lively accordion on “Cattle and the Creeping Things” and the subtle perfection of Tad Kubler’s acoustic guitar on “Citrus,” the band comes to life in a very different way that highlights its songwriting strength. Because the band has clear and firm roots in the world of word-of-mouth record collecting and “limited edition” ethos, this EP may take a little hunting to find. Don’t waste your time checking iTunes or the big-box stores for it because this release is exclusive to outlets in the Coalition of Independent Music Stores. I’ll give ya hint: There’s a CIMS store on the 700 block of Elmwood Avenue here in Buffalo.

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