Coming Of Age With Arctic Monkeys At Webster Hall

It is fall 2005. I am a vaguely angsty teen who comes home from school and reads British music sites in order to, like, dull the suburban ennui (or whatever). I find a demo of a song called “Fake Tales Of San Francisco” by Arctic Monkeys. The real San Francisco is an hour away from me, half a world away from the four slightly older teens from northern England. The track instantly grabs me—its taut, roughed-up riffs landing somewhere between my ongoing obsessions with The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand. I can’t relate to singer/guitarist Alex Turner’s stories of love and hate that take place in bars and clubs, but the wide-eyed boys in well-worn polo shirts and sneakers still feel distinctly accessible. The next year, Arctic Monkeys release Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, breaking the British record for fastest selling debut album. They have a permanent spot in my Top 8 on Myspace and I buy imported copies of their CD singles from Tower Records.

It is fall 2013. I am a music blogger in my mid 20s in New York City. Myspace is a thing that Justin Timberlake tried to get people to like again. Tower Records has been out of business for years. Arctic Monkeys have just released their fifth album, AM, and I am finally seeing them live for the first time at a packed-out Webster Hall. It’s a clear triumph; the line goes down the block hours before the doors open and there are enough people who were in the Kidz Bop demographic when Whatever People Say I Am came out, to prove that the band’s been continually earning fans. While we’re waiting, a teen boy tells my friend and I to look up YouTube footage of a festival that Arctic Monkeys played in 2006, and neither of us can remember if we even used YouTube back then.
 
Once inside, the sense of anticipation is palpable. A set from NYC’s Drowners is well received, the lo-fi quartet managing to make garage pop head-boppers like “Shell” and “Long Hair” fill the sizeable club. Frontman Matt Hitt can’t stop reminding the crowd of what his band is called, but that’s okay–they’ve only got one EP out so far and everyone knows what the main event is, anyways. Then Turner comes out wearing a brown sequined blazer that makes him look like some sort of bizarre 70s lounge singer, while bassist Nick O’Malley and guitarist Jamie Cook are both shaggy-haired in suits. Drummer Matt Helders might still have something with the Adidas logo on it in the back of a closet somewhere, but we’re not in Kansas or 2006 anymore. The band that can’t stop making hits kicks off their set with the smoldering AM opener “Do I Wanna Know?” and the crowd immediately turns into a who-needs-both-kidneys-anyways crush. It’s hard to tell if there are so many hands in the air because of sheer enthusiasm or because it’s impossible to let gravity do its job.
 
If there was a tepid point in the Arctic Monkeys discography, it was 2011’s hit-and-miss fourth LP Suck It And See, though “Brick By Brick” is a highlight of the show. AM sees them bouncing back into fine form, though Turner’s transformation into a lothario rock god isn’t quite hitting the mark, thanks to a penchant for floppy shirt collars and heavy leather jackets that weigh down his slight frame. When he pulls out a comb and slicks back his heavily pomaded hair onstage, it’s frankly a bit comical. But growing up is hard for everyone, and where his look falls short, songs like “Knee Socks” convincingly rise out of a sleazy ooze. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” is driven by a nasty funk lurch, while “Snap Out Of It” shows a heavy take on retro jangle.
 
Arctic Monkeys are in it for the long haul, and they play like it. Over the span of about two hours, they runs through their entire career, “Brianstorm” and “Fluorescent Adolescent” from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare remaining obvious favorites. Whatever People Say I Am’s lead single “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” still sounds fresh, though it’s miles away from the the tightly-wound vibe that defines AM. As the night closes with the nostalgia-tinged “505,” I remember that not everyone is looking so far back. It’s pretty difficult when you have three different elbows pressing into your neck.
 
Photo by Zackery Michael

Arctic Monkeys Still Stomping About With ‘Do I Wanna Know?’

In the depths of the night (or morning, I guess, with the time zones and all), Sheffield garage-rock quartet Arctic Monkeys put a new single online and, by the morning, they had fired up the salivary glands of musical Anglophiles the world over. "Do I Wanna Know?" comes more than a year after their last single, the Drake-inspired "R U Mine?," which dropped in February 2012 and was released physically for Record Store Day. Adding another new song on the pile will likely spur more rumors about a potential fifth album, the follow-up to the generally-liked Suck It and See

Like "R U Mine?," "Do I Wanna Know" is also titled interrogatively, and is on the slower side, but still imposing, this time with a big handclap-propelled beat that anchors the guitar riffs. There’s an eerie quality to Alex Turner’s voice as he sings about crawling back to a lost love, with the guitar hanging over like a spectre and the rest of the band providing a ghostly chorus. Watch the video, which starts out simply enough with black-and-white animated soundwaves before entering into a bizarro-world of colors and nudity and lots and lots of flames, below. 

BlackBook Tracks #13: High School Called, It Wants Its Music Back

Maxïmo Park played in New York last night? The Killers are putting out an album next week? It’s time to reflect on the recent past. It seems like just yesterday that Brandon Flowers was perfecting his glossy pout, but that was 2005, or 16 blog years ago! Here are some other memories from my time as an entry-level alt teen, putting posters from imported copies of the NME on my bedroom wall.

Maxïmo Park – “Graffiti”

Back in the day, Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith was probably the smartest guy in British rock music. He might still be!

Hot Chip – “Over and Over”

Hot Chip had already released debut album Coming On Strong in 2004, but “Over And Over” was their breakout single in 2006, and for good reason. It’s got all the wit and tension that has led to their success since then.

The Lovemakers – “Prepare For The Fight”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the sexed-up Oakland duo was always on heavy rotation on the alt-rock station LIVE 105. To this day, I’m not really sure how far outside the region they made it, but they had a good run while they lasted.

The Kills – “Love Is A Deserter”

The Kills have been going strong for ten years now, and “Love Is A Deserter” was the first song I remember hearing from them. They’ve mellowed out a little with age, but this cut from 2004’s No Wow shoots to kill.

Arctic Monkeys – “Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?”

Remember the halcyon days of Myspace, when bands like Arctic Monkeys could suddenly rise to international stardom? Well, now it’s 2012, and high school girls are cyberbullying each other on Tumblr instead.

The Rakes – “22 Grand Job”

The now-defunct favorites of Hedi Slimane were angular and anxious, loaded with sharp everyman observations.

Beck – “Girl”

Do you want to feel old? Guero was the Beck album that came out when I was the right age to get into his work.

The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”

Remember when Brandon Flowers wanted to be Morrissey instead of Bruce Springsteen?

The Futureheads – “Hounds Of Love”

When the Kate Bush classic got this barbershop-inspired treatment, it was a big deal, or so I read on the internet.

Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out”

I’d be amiss if I didn’t include the song that completely changed my ideas about what music could be. While it hasn’t quite been canonized the way, say, Modest Mouse’s “Float On” has, there’s still plenty to look back on and love.

The Week(end) In Covers, ScarJo Salutes Serge, Driving Old Dixie Down and More

Hey, it’s only Monday and this weekend had some notable instances of people recording versions of other people’s music.

Scarlett Johansson & Lulu Gainsbourg – "Bonnie & Clyde"

Any father, even one as magnificent and totally nuts as Serge Gainsbourg, would be lucky to have a kid as devoted as his son, Lulu, who is putting out a tribute album to his father to be released this October. To help, he’s enlisted the likes of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, Iggy Pop and, of course, Scarlett Johansson, who channels her best dark-and-sexy-French-lounge-singer impression to complement Lulu on "Bonnie & Clyde." Have a listen below (via The AV Club):

Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan & John Smith – "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

Speaking of The AV Club, the site has been showing their special summer mini-break version of "Undercover," and in today’s installment, three lovely folk artists salute the late, great Levon Helm (still sad) with a mournful and well-intentioned version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Glen Hansard always looks like he’s in pain when he’s singing, but it’s hard not to feel some kind of sorrow when thinking about Levon. He and his tourmates commit to the song, and there are some nice harmonies, and the Chicago setting for the video is totally sweet, but really, nothing will ever stack up to Helm’s original. 

Arctic Monkeys – "Come Together" 

The 2012 London Olympics opening ceremonies were a celebration of Britain’s most obvious cultural signifiers: James Bond, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, corgis, Mr. Bean, The Beatles. The musical selections from the madcap brainchild of Danny Boyle, Stephen Daldry and musical directors Underworld included the latter’s own tracks, the Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse, Fuck Buttons and appearances from British musicians of past and present, including the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Frank Turner, Emeli Sandé, Paul McCartney and Arctic Monkeys, who did a pretty standard cover of "Come Together" as well as their own hit, "I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor." There’s a video up on Domino’s website of the performance. 

Arctic Monkeys Cover The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ For Olympics Opening Ceremony

Didn’t watch the opening ceremony for the Olympics? You’re probably sick of the memes about the Queen. But one thing you shouldn’t miss? The Arctic Monkeys cover of the Beatle’s Come Together.

 

The band also performed I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor. Other performances included ones by Paul McCartney, Dizzee Rascal, Two Cinema Club, and Emeli Sandé. The Arctic Monkey’s cover of Come Together, as well as 24 minutes worth of new music written for the ceremony by the electronica duo Underworld Underworld, are available on iTunes in Isles of Wonder: Music for the Opening Ceremony.

After the Hype, the Arctic Monkeys Evolve Their Sound on ‘Suck It and See’

Before recording their new album, Suck It and See, Arctic Monkeys’ lead singer Alex Turner swung by the small offices of Domino Records, the label that first signed the band in 2005. He was there to fetch a copy of their debut, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which he hadn’t listened to since it was pressed. What he heard next were kinetic, beer-soaked retellings of the band’s nocturnal misadventures: face-offs with bouncers, propositions from hookers, and boozy encounters with spray-tanned lushes. They were, after all, four teenage guys from Sheffield, England. What else were they going to make music about?

If the title of their forthcoming release is any indication, today’s Monkeys haven’t evolved much from the cheeky lads who recorded a 2006 EP titled Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? “I suppose Suck It and See is a bit rude, innit?” says Turner between puffs of a Camel. “It’s an old English saying, like, ‘Give it a try.’ We’ve got some American friends, and when we were talking about calling it that, they were like, ‘You have to do it!’” But despite naming albums based on what their friends think sounds “fucking awesome,” the Monkeys—none of whom is older than 25—insist they’ve grown up.

Turner and drummer Matt Helders meet me on the outdoor patio of Manhattan’s Bowery Hotel one day in late March. The band is in New York for three days promoting their album’s June release, but guitarists Nick O’Malley (who joined the group in 2006, after original bassist Andy Nicholson left) and Jamie Cook have opted to stay in their rooms. Turner and Helders explain that fewer members will invite more fluid conversation, but intimations of a party in Brooklyn the previous evening call their reasoning into question. The Monkeys are also known for resisting the advances of journalists. Of their notorious aversion to the press, Helders says, “It’s definitely gotten easier to deal with, but talking about myself isn’t an easy thing for me to do.”

It shows. While Turner and Helders say they’ve come to terms with promoting their work, they still seem insular, hesitant, and more than a little distracted. When Turner speaks, Helders looks down, fiddling with a keychain or his iPhone. What was once a defense mechanism, a reaction to the sudden, thousand-watt spotlight thrust on the band even before the release of their first album, has become, four albums in, total ennui.

When Whatever People Say I Am was released, the internet had just begun to eclipse record labels in terms of influence on a musician’s career. Based solely on the strength of their demos, which went viral before “viral” was a part of the lexicon, the Monkeys experienced an unprecedented surge in exposure. The end result was the fastest-selling album in UK history, with 363,735 units moved in the first week. “You’re not going to blame that on us,” says Helders, about his band’s role in the music industry’s online revolution. And he’s probably right. It was their fans—enthusiastic about the Monkeys’ brash gutter-rock sound, which filled the void left behind by the collapsing Libertines—who distributed their songs across social websites like Myspace. In an age when the biggest artists on the planet have embraced the web as a tool for DIY self-promotion, the Monkeys have remained resistant to overexposure. “I’m still pretty disconnected from all that social networking,” Turner says. “It’s not something that any of us really uses.” image

Since the beginning, the Monkeys haven’t taken themselves very seriously. They decided to band together after receiving instruments as Christmas gifts; their first hometown gigs were played for a total of three people. “We were just having a laugh,” as Helders puts it. But when they became the biggest band in England almost overnight, they quickly formulated a blueprint for outlasting the hype. “After that first record, we went right back into the studio to make another one, and I’m glad we did,” says Turner of 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare. “Otherwise we might still be in there now, trying to write ‘Hallelujah.’”

Suck It and See marks a meaningful shift for the Monkeys, both in its recording process and in the finished product. For their previous album, 2009’s Humbug, the band, along with their producer, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, painstakingly narrowed down the 12-song track listing from the 25 they had originally recorded. This time out, Turner wrote most of the songs in the Brooklyn apartment he shared until recently with his girlfriend Alexa Chung (the couple moved back to London following the cancellation of MTV’s It’s On with Alexa Chung in December 2009), intending for each of the tracks to appear on the album’s final cut.

For Turner, Suck It and See—despite its title—is a more serious record. “In the past we shied away from traditional verse-chorus-verse structures,” he says. “Perhaps we’ve not done that before because that’s how everybody else does it, but you get to a point where you realize there’s a reason people do things.” That revelation gave them the confidence to expand their sonic arsenal. Suck It and See finds the Monkeys, a band who once specialized in stripped-down, blunt-force trauma rock, sounding almost lighthearted. Gone, for the most part, are the “faster, riffier” songs, as Turner calls them, replaced with echoing guitars, foot-tapping bass lines, and soulful choruses. Their post-punk garage-rock aesthetic—trumpeted by bands like the Hives and the Vines—has been eschewed in favor of something that sounds closer to Brit-pop.

But if the Monkeys’ sound has evolved, then what about their sensibility? Turner’s lyrics, which have developed in quirk since the Sheffield days, are known for their turns-of-phrase and cocky wit. But when it comes time to decode them for the press, he avoids specifics. He despises, in particular, the track-by-track breakdown, a safety net for stumped music writers. “It’s like, Oh yeah, this one’s all about pain,” he says. “When promoting the first record, I’d be like, Why the fuck are we breaking this down for you? It’s pretty obvious what each tune is saying.” The songs on Suck It and See won’t make interpretation any easier. “Bite the lightning, and tell me how it tastes,” Turner sings on “Don’t Sit Down ’Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” the album’s first single. “Kung fu fighting, on your roller skates. Do the Macarena in the Devil’s lair, but just don’t sit down ’cause I moved your chair.” Appropriately, Turner, who’s busy squirming in his own chair, insists that those are some of the most accessible lyrics on the album.

The Kills Cover BlackBook’s May Music Issue!

What luck! In a week that turned out to be all about the kill, we’re introducing our brand new Music Issue on newsstands now, featuring cover stars The Kills. Coincidence? We think so! Anyway, read all about the everlasting musical union between Mr. Hince and Ms. Mosshart — and the new album they made — here. Also in our May issue:

Before Mark Ruffalo hulks and smashes in next summer’s Avengers, he pauses for his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious; read a revealing interview with the actor about the rock drama and the darkness that inspired it. UK music sensation Anna Calvi has opened for Interpol, but she never met lead singer Paul Banks — until now. The Arctic Monkeys, rockstars before they turned twenty, evolve on their new album, Suck It and See. New York’s Gang Gang Dance explain where their trippy, tribal, genre-defying sound comes from. Our sometime fashion guru Gavin McInnes puts SXSW on blast. Avant-garde musical artist Planningtorock takes us on an impromptu tour of Berlin.

Plus Rose Byrne, Taylor Momsen, Chloe Sevigny, Death Cab for Cutie, Dolly Parton, Richard Ashcroft, Tinie Tempah, and more!

Post-Solange: Lady Gaga, Leona Lewis, & Other Unlikely Covers

Yesterday, we knew nothing about Beyogaga and it was “Sol-Angel this!” and “Hadley St. Dreams that!” Then heads exploded as Solange gave The Dirty Projectors a slick makeover. In a vain bid to extend Solange’s mission of fipster goodwill into a wave of good news for the superlative popstrel that’ll still be relevant by the time next week rolls around, here’s an obligatory trend piece! No, not one about rock-and-roll types legitimizing pop songs/”Single Ladies”, rather the exact opposite. Because irony for irony’s sake is so passé. With pop stars, it’s about self-awareness as a device in furthering careers. It’s about bringing music to the masses. It’s about saving lives. Too far? Fine, fine. In any case, a round-up of some recent exemplary rock covers that pop stars have performed for some reason or another.

In true fashion, Leona Lewis reduces Snow Patrol’s “Run” to a bland ballad that sits pretty next to “Bleeding Love” and “Happy.”

Girls Aloud has incorporated their version of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” into their live tours.

Meanwhile Kelly Clarkson performs White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” In addition to that, she also serves up a Alanis Morrissette/Kings of Leon combo and her spin on this Black Keys tune.

In a previous life, the Sugababes covered the Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor” for the NME set. And last week, they gave Florence & the Machine’s “Rabbit Heart” a whirl.

And of course, Lady Gaga performs Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.”

Survival Strategies: How Bands Can Win At CMJ

After you find yourself stranded outside The Delancey behind a strange-looking man who is screaming, “I AM HERE TO SEE DELOREAN. THEY ARE A SPANISH BAND!” and you’re unable to get inside despite being “on the list,” you may decide that this isn’t an ideal venue to be hosting an event featuring a half-dozen rock bands. And then you may quickly resent the snarly boulder at the door who not only denies the existence of your wristband, which is on your wrist, but also the guest list. Defeated and unable to cover the band that was your raison d’etre for getting out of Brooklyn at such a ridiculous hour, you may even shamble over to Katz’s to stress-eat a knish. And then you’ll summarily dismiss three-quarters of all CMJ-related antics as “rubbish” and go onto pen a list of tips, tricks, and gimmicks that indie bands vying for relevance would do well to heed, lest they incur their own #CMJFails. That list is after the jump.

● Guitars are great, but there is only so much “shredding” musicians can accomplish while swinging their unshorn manes. Many bands would do well to take a cue from CMJ Best of Show Rubik and have an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to performance, swapping out guitars for trombones and electronic doohickeys on a lark.

● Sense of humor. Really, music stopped being about the music long, long ago. Heck, it even stopped being about the skinny jeans long, long ago, too. In these recessionomic times, people are likelier to fork over barely-there cash to their friends than total strangers. So musicians, be chummy and turn that frown upside down. Crack a joke. Do a jig. Heck, half-assedly play a Beyoncé cover. Seriously, your post-recession future depends on it.

● Women are talented. No really, indie bands! Many of you sound like James Blunt in the middle of a roid rage and would do well to scale it back. This sort of gimmick could break you into the major label success that you so desperately need. Consider fallen pop titans grasping for credibility. The UK’s teeming with them: Jamelia, that one Minogue sister who didn’t just wrap up a Stateside tour, and that broad from S Club 7. Camp adds color to an otherwise monochromatic indie sound. Seriously.

● Do not exceed your allotted time. I don’t care if this song is for your “best friend who helped me celebrate my cat’s birthday three nights ago” — if you’ve got 40 minutes, and we’re currently clocked in at minute 47, there is a problem. You should probably shut it down. Also: Please don’t dawdle in between songs. There’s always a midnight happy hour that CMJ attendees need to get to afterward.

● Most importantly: Mingle. You can sleep in all of next week. But the remainder of this week, dearest indie bands, you belong to the city.