Release Date: Feb 19, 2013
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When you place Concrete Knives’ debut full length Be Your Own King in your ears, there are a couple of strange sensations that occur. First and foremost, when the chorus of loose voices breaks through the upbeat indie motif within the first 30 seconds of ‘Bornholmer’, you get this sense that this record is going to be a collection of songs by a collective of friends who get together to have some fun and make music. While we are on the subject of collectives, the second thing that might strike you is the initial uncanny resemblance to a rather obscure Canadian band Greenbelt Collective who share the multi-vocal-record-while-partying vibe with their cousins from Normandy.
Hailing from Caen, France, Concrete Knives are four guys and a girl who make gloriously upbeat and off the wall pop rock, guaranteed to warm the soul and thaw out even the coldest winter feet for dancing. The cover photo of Be Your Own King features a photo of an arty type, standing in an empty field wearing a thermal blanket, gazing at the brutalist architecture of high rise flat blocks. Is it a metaphor for their background in northern France in a city famous for conflict and all too remote from cosmopolitan Paris? Or an indication of their sound – energetic and vibrant compared to the drab surroundings? Either way, it’s an interesting contrast and introduction to a band that bristle with an infectious rhythm and collective spirit that could make even the most drab high rise seem exciting.
It’s not hard to guess why Concrete Knives stick tightly to such a narrow formula across the ten songs which make up Be Your Own King: making music like this sounds as if it would be a pretty addictive pursuit. Two and a half minute opener ‘Bornholmer’ represents the album in miniature – the record’s two mainstay components being the propellant beat back-boning each youthful frolic, and a snatch of shouty-cum-sing song refrain, delivered by however many voices feel like getting swept into into the frothy frenzy. You make a song which sounds as fun to perform as something like ‘Greyhound Racing’ and it’d take a fairly joyless or stoic bunch to stray too far from the general blueprint across the album’s remaining nine tracks.
Flush with the feverish and desperate zeal of youth, if Be Your Own King, the full-length debut from French indie pop outfit Concrete Knives, were a living thing, it would smell like a sweaty handful of unused drink tickets. All gang vocals, left-field rhythmic shifts, and kinetic yet willfully melodic indie pop non-swagger, the Normandy five-piece wants to be Talking Heads, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and fellow countrymen Phoenix all at once, which can make for an exhausting listen, but a predilection for brevity and simple pop craftsmanship ultimately tempers their more obstinate tendencies, resulting in a smart, well-executed set of staccato dance-rock anthems that flirt with excess, yet never overstay their welcome. There is a pixie-ish (the impish creature of folklore, not the feral Boston alt-rock gods) undercurrent that runs through album highlights like "Brand New Start," "Wild Gunman," and the "Magnificent Seven"-era Clash-influenced "Greyhound Racing," but it's the aforementioned David Byrne, Win Butler, and Ezra Koenig who lord over moodier cuts like "Wallpaper" and "Africanize," the latter of which capably reproduces, albeit in a darker fashion, Vampire Weekend's hipster Soweto.
Not, as their name might suggest, a hard-ass Latvian metal band, Concrete Knives are actually friendly indie types from northern France. Featuring production work from The Dø’s Dan Levy, their debut album is lots of fun, all wonky pop hooks and flimsy male-female vocal harmonies. ‘Bornholmer’ and ‘Greyhound Racing’ have echoes of Yeah Yeahs Yeahs to them, while ‘Brand New Start’ has more than a bit of Talking Heads in its Afrobeat bounce.
It’s unsurprising that the Dø’s Dan Levy took the production seat on Concrete Knives’ debut long player. Like Levy’s main output, this French five-piece, who have wowed audiences with their exciting live shows, embrace youthful exuberance but in a much more hyperactive fashion. With its muggy, lo-fi atmosphere, ‘Be Your Own King’ works best at its most carefree: ‘Roller Boogie,’ a dazzling three minutes something track filled with airy synths, could easily pass off as Modest Mouse’s ‘Float On.’ Further on, ‘Greyhound Racing’ recalls the dirty blues of early Black Keys.