There are many words used to describe the band We Are Scientists aka WAS; eccentric, off kilter, tongue and cheek, and brilliant. The two main co founders of the band are some of the most refreshingly funny and insightful musical artists to emerge from the early 00’s.
April 22 saw the release of their fifth album, with the attention demandingly title, Helter Seltzer. These off the cuff kings of spontaneity are renowned for their engaging live shows and for releasing nuanced albums that are a clever marriage of power rock and melancholy. This go round they ask the listener to put aside their preconceived notions of the band while they deliver a heart felt and earnest release brilliantly enmeshed within their engaging sonic sounds. “Helter Seltzer” presents the possibility that these Peter Pans have now grown up.
We are Scientists formed on the US west coast when Keith Murray, Chris Cain and former co founder Scott Lamb met at Pomona College in 1997. They would form the band officially in 2000. There influences span a wide gyre, Bowie, Eno, The Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, Hall and Oates and Fleetwood Mac. After finishing college they would relocate to NY, NY. The band broke out of the ranks with their first debut album With Love and Squalor in 2002 and the single Nobody Moves Nobody Gets Hurt. They followed that up with the increasingly popular Brain Thrust Mystery which charted 11 in the UK Alternative Charts and produced two top 40 singles, After Hours and Chick Lit. The band would evolve through many line up changes and label switch ups. Thorough it all they have retained or maybe been saved by their special brand of humour that has been ever apparent in interviews and on stage.
The group also presents themselves as a double threat with their skills in video production. They starred in a series of comedic TV shorts for MTV UK in 2009, “Steve Wants His Money” and conceive their own video concepts for their songs. The band line up currently comprises Keith Murray on lead vocals, guitars and keyboards, Chris Cain on bass and backing vocals and Keith Caine on drums and percussion. They have been equated with and compared to numerous bands; Editors, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers and Arctic Monkeys but have differentiated themselves with their drive to marry thoughtful epic lyrics to loud driving energy filled sonics.
Any band into their fifth album and 16 years into their existence can begin to wonder if the chemistry is gone. On Helter Seltzer, We Are Scientists display that the chemistry still works and if anything all the experiences they have attained along the way have helped to produce an extremely enticing result. The lead off song to the album, Buckle is a stellar energy laden song that has hooks galore. There is no messing about as the track drops you into a power rock, radio friendly tune. The song’s premise is that even when someone is wrong that doesn’t have to be the end of attract, “You proved I was wrong about everything…why not keep this interesting I watch you buckle when you think of me.” Buckle is a great opening statement for the release.
The shimmering beginning of In My Head gives way to driving drums and chiming guitars. It is a fantastic amalgam of mid 00’s rock. The track is loaded with solid sonic goodness that fills a gaping hole for many music aficionados from that period. It is melodic and listener friendly. The Muse/Foals inspired tune Too Late is a large anthematic song straight out of the 80’s. There are some pretty serious lyrics from these two jokers which is unexpected and refreshing. The message is there is always a chance to right wrongs as long as you don’t give up, “All we are is history, when you turn and walk away.” The track Hold On has a skittery guitar that makes for a taunt feeling and harkens to The Shins. The main gist of the song asks how we deal with an ever changing world where that which seems concrete constantly gives way. How do we know what to trust and hold on to?
The songs up to this point are impressive and up-tempo, with the song We Need A Word the vibe turns to an introspective ballad. “We Need A Word” speaks to the moment every couple dreads when you either have to take the next step or cut and run; “This could be my last try, what if it were?” The song portrays a crossroads that has been reached and tough decisions which can no longer be put off. The track is filled with strong drums and is an engaging listen. If the world were fair Don’t Keep Quiet Would be all over the radio, the song is a slow burner to begin with but in the second half explodes with a solid slab of pop that demands attention. The lovelorn Want for Nothing is beautifully orchestrated and takes a page from Neil Finn and Crowded House’s stylings. It is an earnest ballad following the tradition formats of classic romantic ballads. Engaging in its plea “I can’t do this alone, take me home you’ll want for nothing.”
Classic Love is everything fans of the band love about them, as it rekindles the winning sounds of their early releases. It is bright, energetic and pithy with a Johnny Marr inspired guitar, it is beautifully constructed and another fantastic deep cut track on the album. Waiting for You is a clever amalgam of mid tempo ballad structures with a serious rock underpinning. It again comes off to me with serious Crowded House influences. The song asks what are you waiting for, seize the moment, time is not infinite don’t waste it, “don’t keep waiting for the rest of your life…I’ll be waiting for you.” Headlights is a punchy straight on rocker. It is hook laden and radio friendly. The best part is it is simply forthright and fun with some seriously heavy guitar noodling, adrenalin fuelled and not to be missed. Forgiveness is a strong finish to the album with a wavery oscillating guitar treatment. The song is about the average person facing up to the screw-ups of life and hoping for but not expecting forgiveness. The song is presented with something just shy of bombast and is effortlessly performed.
The release of Helter Seltzer finds We Are Scientists still the clever post rockers fans have come to adore. The album shows up the band’s best side. There is also growth and maturity that are necessary for a band heading towards their second decade of existence. We Are Scientists have found a way to take all the youthful exuberance of their early incarnation and build upon it with solid experience while not lose any of what makes them unique. They make it all seem effortless and that in its self is the hardest feat. We Are Scientist certainly have more gas in the tank to power on for a long time to come. I for one look forward to the next release.