The Atlantic Divide
Another year and another wave of quirky British bands pouring into the States. It's got all the makings of a new British Invasion. Well, except for one thing–the invasion. For every Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand that succeeds in North America, there are dozens more that barely make it across the pond and dozens of critics ready to lump em all under the same "art rock" or "new-wave revival" categories. Many of these bands come from a different lineage--one that started at the end of the 70s, when groups like the Jam, the Specials, and Squeeze were deciding what to do after punk. There are plenty of new bands with this same attitude: that post-punk doesn't have to be mopey and melodramatic. And they've got the same problem too--an American audience far smaller than they deserve.
Ordinary Boys: Three albums into their career, the boys from Worthing have become a household name in England. Frontman Sam Preston's a bona fide TV personality, starring on the 2006 season of Celebrity Big Brother. On this side of the Atlantic, though, the Boys have barely got a foot in the door. The band's 2006 offering How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted in Ten Easy Steps demonstrates a sound that has evolved from a Specials/Smiths/Jam mix to something more experimental. Yes, that does involve electronics. But Preston's lyrics are as smart as ever, calling out the usual cultural suspects (fame, the music industry, etc.) while not getting too serious ("Ballad of an Unrequited Self-Love Affair").
Maxmo Park: On their 2005 debut A Certain Trigger, this band from Newcastle established themselves as one to watch… in England. That's why they can get away with releasing an "extras" album so early in their career. 2006's Missing Songs is a collection of B-sides and demo versions of songs from Trigger. While the Ordinary Boys built on ska-style beats, Maxmo Park lean more toward XTC: vibrant, pop-minded, and, at times, punk. There's no reason Maxmo Park shouldn't be next year's big import.
The Holloways: With two-part harmonies and a heavy dose of ska and 60s pop, the Holloways are one of the few English bands that serve their songs sunny side up. That's not to say they're all sugar-coated–far from it. Debut album So This Is Great Britain? opens with the title track, which shows the "land of hope and glory" in a none-too-rosy light, concluding that, "We're all just a bunch of slaves."
The Pipettes: If it weren't for the lyrics, you'd swear the Pipettes' debut album We Are the Pipettes was written 40 years ago. Sounding (and looking) like a Phil Spector dream, the three girls who front this polka-dotted pop group do their damnedest to get London swinging again. Backed by a band of dudes (known as the Cassettes), the Pipettes aren't post anything, just pure retro. No synthesizers here, just loads of strings and horns and classic wall-of-sound production.
The Rifles: The Rifles are just as interested in 1964 and 1984, and on their debut album No Love Lost, they sometimes get both at once. Their contemporary indie-pop influences are the most obvious, but songs like "Robin Hood" sound like a Merseybeat band after spending a year in modern-day England: upbeat, tightly wound pop played with uncanny precision. Still, it's songs like "Local Boy"--somewhere between the Cure and the Newtown Neurotics--that populate most of the album and make the Rifles worth seeking out.
Little Man Tate: This is one band that's heavy on the pop but equally full of smart (and occasionally smart-ass) lyrics. Jon Windle's swaggering style makes him equal parts rock singer and observant storyteller. Oh, wait: there's the smart-ass part too, exemplified by "Man I Hate Your Band"–a song Windle probably prefers to do without an audience sing-along.
The View: This group from Dundee, Scotland, gained an important fan when Babyshambles' Pete Doherty caught a live performance in early 2006. It was a blessing and a curse: drummer Steve Morrison was involved in one of Doherty's many arrests, but after Doherty handed their demo to an A&R guy from Rough Trade. The View are one of the few bands here that don't always prefix punk with post, as evidenced in "Posh Boys," a short, fast blast of two-chord fury.
The Subways: This past summer's U.S. tour with Taking Back Sunday, Angels and Airwaves, and Head Automatica bolstered the Subways' trans-Atlantic popularity. That's good for their American audience, who got to hear something different from the usual alt-rock crap they're used to. And given the Subways' blend of jagged Brit pop and thick-riffed Detroit rock, they're the right Anglos for the job.
The Buzzcocks: The Buzzcocks from 2006 didn't need to remind you of the Buzzcocks from 1976. They've been too busy doing new stuff. Not only did they release Flat-Pack Philosophy this year (their fifth studio album since reuniting and eighth overall) but their decision to join the Warped Tour proved they can still keep up with the kids.
Paul Weller: Any Brit rock band worth a shit today will cite Weller and his long-defunct band, the Jam, as an influence. And in 2006, Weller's importance to British music was codified at the Brit Awards, where he received the "Outstanding Contribution to Music" award (what we in the States call a "Lifetime Achievement Award"). Still, America has yet to pay any real attention to the man known as the "Modfather." Maybe that'll change next January when Weller performs a three-night, career-spanning concert in New York City.
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