Album Reviews: With Love and Squalor by We Are ScientistsKeith Murray has issues. On With Love and Squalor, the debut album from his band We Are Scientists, the dyspeptic singer-guitarist beats himself up on track after track about his heavy drinking, his social anxiety and his relationship troubles. The glum, woe-is-me tone is so consistent that it's almost a concept album. And it would sink the album if the music accompanying Murray's self-flagellations weren't so consistently compelling.
At first blush, We Are Scientists come across as just another cookie-cutter "dance-rock" band in the tradition of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party. And at their weakest, that's pretty much all they are -- the lead track "Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt" sounds like The Bravery with an emo twist. But over the course of the album's 12 tracks, the band reveals songwriting chops and power-trio arranging skills that far surpass most of their peers. Straightforward power-pop ditties like "This Scene is Dead" and "The Great Escape" skate nimbly through different styles and tempos, sounding at various moments like skater-punk singalongs and Cure-like bursts of romantic angst and serrated guitar chords.
Bassist Chris Cain and drummer Michael Tapper deserve a lot of credit for lifting We Are Scientists above the dance-rock tag for the creative ways they turn these songs inside without ever losing the groove. But surprisingly, it may be Keith Murray and his epic odes to his own shortcomings that keep this band in the spotlight for a long time to come. He hasn't quite elevated his own misery to an art form the way, say, Morrissey has, but on With Love and Squalor, Murray comes close. - Andy Hermann
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