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The Brutal Truth 

Brit rockers Art Brut remind what rock 'n' roll is all about

"Art Brut," if you're talking about actual art (the kind that lives in museums and the like), is synonymous with "outsider art"--art created by people with mental or physical disabilities, or by people "outside" of what is considered normal culture.

The members of the band Art Brut, though none of them are physically or mentally disabled, are on the outside, and don't especially want to be on the inside, wherever that may be. Art Brut joyously flip the bird, on both hands, to the world of pretentious rock. They run giggling among the hipsters and scenesters of the world and blow gigantic raspberries, reminding us all that rock 'n' roll is not supposed to be so damn serious.

Art Brut began in 2003 when Eddie Argos moved to London and, according to the band's bio, wanted to form a new band to reach his goal of being on the BBC's Top of the Pops--and to score chicks. The members--Ian Catskilkin on guitar, Freddy Feedback on bass, Mikey B on drums and Jasper Future on guitar (replacing Chris Chinchilla)--were all assembled through word of mouth and chance. Bang Bang Rock & Roll, their full-length record, was released last year on Fierce Panda records in the U.K.; the album is currently only available on iTunes in the United States.

Despite the fact that Feedback had never played bass before, and Argos told NOW Magazine that "I'm not very talented musically," Art Brut's straight-up rock 'n' roll, delivered with a sense of humor, is far better than you'd expect. In a profile on Pitchforkmedia.com, Argos told interviewer Sam Ubl that "Jonathan Richman is my absolute hero. I love the way he sings about anything from buying a new pair of jeans to the relationship with his daughter now that he's separated from his wife."

Similarly, Art Brut's songs cover everything from their own formation as a band ("Formed a Band") to impotence ("Rusted Guns of Milan") to moving to Los Angeles ("Moving to L.A."). They can even get somewhat weepy ("Stand Down"). Nearly every Art Brut lyric is worthy of quotation: In "Bad Weekend," Argos sings, "Popular culture no longer applies to me," as a lament rather than a cultural critique. "Look at us! We formed a band!" sings Argos on "Formed a Band," backed by what sounds like a giddy garage band out of the '70s, except hyperaware of their own spot on the rock 'n' roll timeline. The guitars grate and wail away; the bass hums along, while Argos continues, "And yes, this is my singing voice. It's not irony. It's not rock 'n' roll. We're just talking to the kids."

So, kids, says Art Brut, this whole rock 'n' roll band thing shouldn't be some kind of soul-searching, emotion-wrenching endeavor. It's just about playing music, having fun, drinking some beers, maybe meeting some girls. Or guys. Whatever.

Art Brut offers franchises of themselves, and photos of franchise bands (who are each given a number) can be found on their Web site; the havoc Art Brut wreak on rock 'n' roll pretension is perfectly described in an NME review of a show in November where several franchises were present: Writes Leonie Cooper, "Art Brut 17 are at the bar, Art Brut 4 are scuttling around the Barfly throwing fluorescent pink paint about, and Art Brut 69 are threatening to push Eddie off the stage, grab his microphone and sing all the songs in a speed metal style. Presumably overcome by the emotion of all this, Art Brut 138 are hiding in the corner."

Their MySpace page claims that "Art Brut are working towards World Peace, so anything that goes wrong is due to a plot against the band." It may not be world peace, but they do have a United States label now--Downtown Records will release Bang Bang Rock & Roll May 23, with three bonus tracks--so the American masses may soon see the difference between music that tries too hard, and music that doesn't need to try.

More by Annie Holub

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