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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