We Are Scientists: With Love and Squalor – with “Inaction” video cover

We Are Scientists - With Love and SqualorPart 3 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me

In this very special edition of Beating a Dead Facebook Trend Over the Course of a Year but It’ll Probably Come Around Again So It’s Fine, we discuss a band who happens to have a new album out. TV en Français, released last week, is a long way from 2006’s With Love and Squalor, but the shift in tone had already happened in the intervening two releases, Brain Thrust Mastery and Barbara.

So, okay, yes – the cover of this album played a significant role in convincing me to buy it. There are kittens! Being held by what I can only assume are reasonably attractive young gentlemen who play instruments! Perhaps I’m not solidly in their “Hey Girl” demographic, but darn if it’s not good music. Not revolutionary music, certainly – only a couple tracks depart even slightly from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structure – but very deft at being fast, raucus, guitar-centric rock.

Although not the first release by We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor was their first on an actual record label, and is the first listed on their own website. As such, it’s unusually cohesive as an album, presenting an unrestrained portrait of party and hookup culture in all its confusion, desperation, and unreality. The aforementioned young men have a pretty clear mission statement, repeating it over and over right from the beginning in “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt”:

My body is your body
I won’t tell anybody
If you want to use my body
Go for it, yeah

…while lamenting that fear of rejection is scuppering pretty much everybody’s chances:

If no one moves then nobody’s going to get hurt
Don’t move, ’cause nobody wants to get hurt

The whole album is pretty much an ode to not getting laid. Drunk and exhausted in track 2, “This Scene Is Dead”, our hapless narrator’s mantra is “I’m not going home with no one” – bold determination if the double negative is taken literally, dejected resignation if read colloquially. He’s imbibing again in “Can’t Lose”, becoming someone he doesn’t like; bemoaning his lack of success and continued need to attend parties in “Callbacks”; and even chastising himself for listening to his conscience too much in “Lousy Reputation”.

It’s all done in high-BPM short tunes, mixing shoegaze lyrics with frantic post-punk yelling and even channeling Rush a tiny bit in “Callbacks”. Lead singer Keith Murray isn’t afraid to let his voice break and strategically miss notes – something sorely lacking on later albums.

No one’s quite sure what happened to We Are Scientists after With Love and Squalor; they’ve been accused of becoming bland and boring, but personally I think that’s a bit harsh. Certainly their music sounds more like Broadway finally managed some decent rock songs than a few guys pounding out their frustrations on guitars, but it’s just a suddenly different style, with more controlled and processed production as well as more songs dealing with actual relationships. They did lose their drummer; it’s all synths until a minute and a half into their next album. They also supplied “After Hours” to one of those Michael Cera coming-of-age movies, and if he can figure out how to get into girls’ pants, what excuse did these guys have?

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