Hater raid

Pub date March 22, 2006
WriterJimmy Draper

On their hysterical Web site, We Are Scientists send out a warning to would-be critics.

“Journalists beware!” the New York trio declares. “An example has been made of a reporter who dared to impugn WAS!” It turns out that a certain writer, who had gone out of his way to trash the band, was recently busted for fabricating part of a story in the Village Voice. The lesson to be learned, according to WAS, is that criticizing them results in some serious karmic retribution. “If [writers] must vent negative feelings,” the band helpfully advises, “they should cloak them in a thick blanket of bone-dry sarcasm so that most readers think the article is actually positive.”

WAS may have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, but they have reason to feel a bit defensive. After all, singer-guitarist-heartthrob Keith Murray, bassist Chris Cain, and drummer Michael Tapper are often snubbed by indier-than-thou listeners, particularly in the blogosphere, who begrudge the band for its radio-friendly sound and burgeoning success, which, since last summer, has included a heavily hyped UK tour opening for the Arctic Monkeys and a major-label record deal. What’s more, despite forming in 2000, they’ve been largely dismissed by critics as latecomers to today’s trendy post-punk party.

On its recent debut, With Love and Squalor (Virgin), however, the band distinguishes itself from ’80s-influenced peers such as Hot Hot Heat and Franz Ferdinand by elevating relationship anxiety to an art form. In songs like “The Great Escape” and “Inaction,” propulsive, herky-jerky rhythms underscore Murray’s dread about car-wreck romances that he can’t quite peel himself away from, singing, “Everybody knows how it’s gonna end / Why doesn’t someone stop me?!” The entire album, in fact, is permeated with a nervous, deeply compelling tension due to Murray’s panicked yelp and lyrics that, in his words, attempt to express “a core of existential despair.”

If that sounds pretentious, at least it’s more refreshingly earnest than, say, the arch observations that Franz Ferdinand pass off as profundity in last fall’s lame hit “Do You Want To.” It’s also catchier than anything the ’80s revivalists have released since the Killers’ “Somebody Told Me”