Saturday, May 21, 2011

Monkeys deliver dark Brit-pop

Alex Turner (seen performing in London earlier this month) fronts the Arctic Monkeys. (Dave Hogan/Getty Images/File)

Arctic Monkeys are restless, which is true of any band touring in advance of a new record — their fourth, “Suck It and See,’’ arrives June 7 — but it’s also specifically the UK four piece’s primary musical mode.

In an hour-plus sold-out set at the House of Blues on Thursday, the band remained relatively immobile and surprisingly short on banter (considering frontman Alex Turner’s lyrical verbosity). Their songs, on the other hand, moved in fits and starts, as with the darkly rumbling “Library Pictures,’’ which broke to a crawl, then suddenly accelerated like an aggressive driver in rush-hour traffic.


The Monkeys specialize in a measured sort of anxiety, offering tightly wound darts of garage-rock riffing and furious high-hat stuttering (drummer Matt Helders was especially impressive) that break into moments of reconsidered quiet. No Arctic Monkeys song, save perhaps for the era-defining 2005 hit, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor,’’ is content to let its momentum gain sway. Guitar lines climb and crash like a volatile line graph, while the two guitarists tag team back and forth on one jerky chord riff.
It’s a contemplative young man’s prerogative to constantly over-examine his thoughts and actions, and Turner is smart beyond his 25 years. No surprise, then, that his songs play out like a garage rock cover of Hamlet’s monologues. On songs like “This House Is a Circus’’ — all gnarly bass teeth and upstroke guitars — the band offered its second mode, an apocalyptic grime. Much of the band’s recent work has a swarming, pestilent guitar foreboding, and Turner’s unique voice, like the hum of a molested beehive, can be downright threatening. It’s a surprise coming from a mop-topped, tight-trousered young man who writes Brit-pop with looping riffs that build steady tension before opening into startling (but ultimately logical) chorus singalongs. Something spooky always seems to be lurking under the surface.
Countrymen the Vaccines — purveyors of the surprising semi-hit “Post Break-Up Sex’’ — played a set of crunching, ’90s-style indie-rock with a slouchy T-shirted affect that was something like Morrissey fronting the Pixies.

Boston Globe

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