Release Date: Mar 4, 2014
Record label: Dine Alone Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
Picking up where 2010's Barbara left off, We Are Scientists' fifth studio album, 2014's TV en Français, is a refreshing blast of power that finds the band further exploring their own brand of melodic guitar-based songcraft. If Barbara saw the duo of Keith Murray and Chris Cain moving ever so slightly away from their previous frenetic take on '80s post-punk and toward a more harmony-driven style, then TV en Français is an even more classicist pop record. Perhaps it was the departure of drummer Michael Tapper in 2007, or a maturing desire to explore different aspects of songwriting, but We Are Scientists have delved deeply on TV en Français into the kind of pure, exuberant songwriting that brings to mind such stalwarts of the genre as Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, and Fountains of Wayne.
Masturbation is generally not, it has to be said, something readily recommended by artists. But We Are Scientists suggest exactly that, declaring via their website that the imminent release of their brand spanking new album is worthy of such ejaculative celebration. Coming (pardon the pun) almost four years after Barbara emerged, TV En Français is the fifth studio effort from Californian pairing Keith Murray and Chris Cain.
We Are Scientists created a brand of foot-wriggling dancepunk that saw them become media darlings on release of their debut, With Love And Squalor, in 2005. Since then, they’ve written countless poppy anthems that have deserved far greater recognition. TV En Francais, the band’s fourth long-player, has a far more polished edge than their previous work.
Remember the Stella Artois “c’est cidre” ads, smooth with Gallic retro cool? One look at the title of the new We Are Scientists immediately brings that to mind, and it’s easy to ponder if Chris Cain and Keith Murray have decided to channel French New Wave for their follow-up to 2010’s ‘Barbara’: they’re zany enough to do it. Listening to ‘TV en Français’ though, reveals that while assumptions of a continental concept record were a decoy duck, there is an unmistakably 60s vibe about it – part girl group and part cocktail lounge. This is not totally leftfield: the guys have covered The Ronettes in the past, and the artwork, as well as name, of last album ‘Barbara’ conveyed a chic Mad Men aesthetic.
What with their double-act shtick and quirky online comedy videos, it’s always a slight surprise when WAS come out with another album of humour-free, largely indistinctive post-punk-flecked indie rock. Despite the presence of ex-Razorlight man Andy Burrows on drums and extra songwriting oomph, their latest offering feels like another exercise in anonymity. ‘Courage’ – basically The Walkmen doing the ‘Everybody Hurts’ guitar scales – and the passably blustery ‘Make It Easy’ get closest to causing ear twitches, but rather more evident than such flashes of musical character is the feeling that if it wasn’t for the goodwill generated by their mildly amusing screen turns, the We Are Scientists experiment might have been over some time ago.
We Are Scientists might be better at comedy than new music. Online, their meme-like photos, absurdist Facebook posts and a silly YouTube video about their upcoming tour with Glasgow's Paws all point to a goofy and self-referential sense of humour. Somehow, this exuberance doesn't come across on their fourth album: TV en Français feels as if it's about six years too late.
When “Return The Favour” was revealed last year it seemed as though We Are Scientists may have discovered that growing older gracefully was the most positive outcome of all of their experiments. While a strong sense of humour is obviously key to the band’s dynamic (see their 2009 comedy shorts, “Steve Wants His Money”), “Return The Favour” shows the band in cinemascopic anthem mode. For the most part it’s a song in the key of ‘The Joshua Tree’ (those brooding drums leading echoed guitar parts), while a heavier tone is taken following a bold guitar solo and almost classic rock keys.