Plumbiferous Media

Barbara - We Are Scientists

Jun 20th 2010
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Barbara - We Are ScientistsWe Are Scientists
Score: 71

First off, we’d like to apol­o­gize for the recent drought of reviews. By an unfor­tu­nate twist of fate, both of our writ­ers were left with­out Inter­net access for the past few weeks. Thank­ful­ly, we are now back up and run­ning. To start things off again, we have We Are Sci­en­tist­s’s newest album, Bar­bara. A sig­nif­i­cant step above the some­what dis­as­trous pre­vi­ous release, Bar­bara is a com­plex and dense, yet often sub­dued album.

Return­ing once again to the style that graced With Love and Squalor, Bar­bara’s tracks fol­low the stan­dard for­mu­la of mul­ti­ple, well con­nect­ed sec­tions, each one graced by its own set of com­plex rhythms, inter­pret­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly by each instru­ment, only to come togeth­er as an intri­cate whole, often walk­ing the line between deep and over­ly con­vo­lut­ed. Sub­tle addi­tions like the occa­sion­al vocal har­mo­ny on “Rules Don’t Stop” tend to push tracks over the edge, but We Are Sci­en­tists, clear­ly in its area of exper­tise, always man­ages to catch tracks before they fall to far.

It is, how­ev­er, still clear that We Are Sci­en­tists has not ful­ly recov­ered from the loss of its long-time drum­mer Michael Tap­per. Much of what makes Bar­bara excel­lent is far too sub­tle, and with­out the strictest lev­el of atten­tion, Bar­bara ends up sound­ing like basic alt-rock, plain and sim­ple. And with an album like Bar­bara, one sim­ply should not have to con­cen­trate deeply in order to ful­ly appre­ci­ate it - that’s not the point of the album.

Front­man Kei­th Mur­ray pro­vides vocals once again for Bar­bara, where the buoy­ant tone of his voice is, while some­what mut­ed, all the same a clear way to dis­tin­guish the band’s music. Mur­ray’s voice has kept the same inte­gral tone to his words, but as We Are Sci­en­tists has shift­ed their music clos­er towards more gener­ic rock, Mur­ray’s voice has fol­lowed (or per­haps led), such that some of the ener­gy that filled the band’s ear­li­er tracks (such as With Love and Squalor’s “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt”) has been mod­er­at­ed, leav­ing a smoother but less inter­est­ing sound. On the whole, that’s real­ly what ends up being the prob­lem with Bar­bara - too much atten­tion spent on radio-friend­ly pro­duc­tion and not enough on the cre­ativ­i­ty that made the band unique.

This prob­lem appears in the lyrics as well, which sim­ply don’t have enough draw to be much more than there. Ves­tiges of the odd­i­ties which have slow­ly dis­ap­peared from We Are Sci­en­tists’ work over the years are still vis­i­ble, but they’ve been rel­e­gat­ed to minor roles, as most eas­i­ly exem­pli­fied in track titles (com­pare the Sci­en­tists’ debut album, with tracks such as “Moth­ra vs. We Are Sci­en­tists,” to this newest album, where the most inter­est­ing title is “Cen­tral AC”). Hap­pi­ly, occa­sion­al lines are inter­est­ing or amus­ing enough to car­ry sec­tions if not tracks - though “You Should Learn“ ‘s line “We all have a soft spot / For lyri­cal words that we know mean noth­ing” is occa­sion­al­ly far too accurate.

Bar­bara cer­tain­ly isn’t a bad album. It is, how­ev­er, some­what dis­ap­point­ing. Though the album is cer­tain­ly an improve­ment over 2008’s lack­lus­ter Brain Thrust Mas­tery, it suf­fers from some of the same issues of that album - name­ly, a shift towards more a cleaned-up, gener­ic sound. In many ways, how­ev­er, Bar­bara is a return to the band’s old­er work, with all the cre­ativ­i­ty that entailed. As such, Bar­bara is a step in the right direc­tion, back­wards though that step may be - and, though it’s not We Are Sci­en­tists’ best album, it’s not bad at all.

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