Say, Say, Say
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell (Interscope / Universal)
Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights, (Matador)
The StormTapes, 3 Track EP

If part of rock and roll is putting primal, sexual sounds against magnetic tape then The Yeah Yeah Yeahs pass with flying colours - when the lead singer borrows breathing patterns from The Pixies' ´Tame' and growls like a dinosaur on the opening track ´Rich' you know you're in the company of a good frontman. Karen Orzalek is as tough as PJ Harvey and effortless as Chrissie Hynde. The band are similarly unafraid to strip the sound down. The album begins with a loop of guitar harmonics, into which a drum kicks in, then the vocal. The bass of the beautiful ´Maps' (the most beautiful song of female lust since Curve's ´Hey!') only enters at the chorus. The way the lyrics descend into an insistent ´say, say, say' over a bassline of Adam Clayton simplicity is beautiful.

Playing and arranging the instruments in slightly different ways both surprises and pricks up the ears. It's futurist retro - perfectly-produced, crystal-clear dynamics often incorporating ambient passages reminiscent of Underworld. The bassline in ´Date with a Night' recalls a linking section in The Dark Side of the Moon. There are overheard monologues ÷ la Surfer Rosa, count-ins to the songs, all the things that make you love an album. Songs float on two chords, played choppily, then fluidly. There are deliberate five note solos and great drumming throughout. As Mark E. Smith says ´What's the point if you can't make it sound garage?' Their three chord glorious trash aesthetic is reminiscent of The Detroit Cobras if they wrote their own songs.

With dynamics this good, it almost doesn't matter what the lyrics say. But the sassy ´Boy you're just a useless bitch and girl you're just a stupid dick' and ´I wish I could buy back the woman you stole' are clever enough to stick in the mind. They ´don't need their fingers.' All in all it's as unchallengeable a mix as their name - homage, sarcasm and upbeatness in one.
Singer / guitarist Paul Banks of Interpol's vocal is undeniably Ian Curtis-like (and, strangely, reminiscent of Patrick Fitzgerald of the unsung Kitchens of Distinction), a comparison which he shouldn't shy from as the band are sufficiently original not to worry about charges of plagiarism. They do new things with the template. Sonically, it's exhilarating stuff. A guitar plays for a couple of bars before a guitar ten times as loud kicks in over the top playing the same chord. The bassline is repeatedly played up the neck. Their secret weapon is repetition, making the eventual break away from the pattern stronger. The bridge at the end of ´PDA' virtually comprises a separate instrumental song, as is the case in the blistering single ´Say Hello to the Angels'. If The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a female-led Strokes with a Bangles-fine sense of harmony, Interpol wears ´This Charming Man' like gladioli waved out the window of a speeding car. ´This is a concept this is a bracelet this isn't no intervention this is a new year what you thought was such a conquest.' Its muscularity shows how much has changed since then. (It also boasts a trio of catchphrases ´Now one, two, three', ´Can I get there this way?' and ´Come into my airspace.') Dressed in Kraftwerk suits and named in the international-police-state vein of Joy Division and New Order, Interpol are perfectly recorded, adding the dynamics Bowie and Eno played with in Berlin in the late 70s to a more conventional guitar-scape. The multi-tracked, high-gain guitars of ´Hands Away' drift just out of prediction, so keeping the interest, before a drum similar to the remix of The Stone Roses' ´Waterfall' slots in and metallic piano clinks across the surface. It's the slow approach. ´I will surprise you sometime, I'll come around' repeats Banks on opener ´Untitled' before adding after several minutes, with a beautiful logic, ´When you're down'. It's enough. The title references the song of The Cure's late-eighties masterpiece of sorts Disintegration, an album with a similar emphasis on atmosphere.

The six minute pun ´Stella is a Diver and She's Always Down' has three bridges including a fantastic section reminiscent of ´We Walk' on REM's Murmur. Banks' voice doesn't seem to lend itself to this, too brittle for such a melody, but somehow it works better for that. On ´Obstacle 1' (a completely different song to ´Obstacle 2') there is an incredible falsetto over a wiry guitar-line stolen from The Fall's ´Middle Class Revolt.' God it's a forgivable theft. A brilliant moment. One of many on this album.

This is very much a studio-album. The detail is there in the three picked notes before the guitarist switches to a strum in ´Say Hello to the Angels'. You could get addicted to the clean attention to detail. There's a lot to this music, most of which I've probably yet to pick up. It's been described as an album that makes you want to stay up all night taking cocaine on a balcony overlooking the city. Snow abounds. You can't help but warm to lyrics that are both funnily fastidious and great: ´Yours is the only version of my desertion that I could ever subscribe to' from ´PDA' or from the same song ´We have two hundred couches where you can sleep tight / grim rite'. Grand stuff.
The StormTapes have been compared to early records by The Church and the three songs on this, their first, short, EP are tied tight and compact. Each has an immediate hook and an overarching logic that makes sense on first hearing, the snap of a rhyme with a line in the verse before. This is another band whose bridges speak volumes for their restraint and grasp of texture.

The satisfyingly word-packed ´Colorwires' is the punkiest, opening with an instrumental refrain before a muscular bassline tricks the song to a simple chorus. When they lean into the bridge the absence of lyrics is like cool wind. Dan Duggan's unique, abstract lyrics are weightless and clean - look at the titles: ´Colorwires', ´Emblem', ´Union' - words structured and placed back to back. Like transparent Tetris blocks they accentuate the words that came before making whole lines disappear with a satisfying flash.

´Emblem' is the most immediate, a summer song. It opens up big as a satellite. When Duggan enters the chorus without raising his voice it's like a strong-hulled ship launching into breakers. The winning lyrics could both be read as an attack or an acknowledgment: ´No needs cause nothing's free / Your easy ways are an emblem'. Other poetry includes ´Last call from black-out hall / the sun's corruption breaks my fall'. They marry with the tug that is the speciality of this band; Mike Duggan's bass playing references Eric Avery (Jane's Addiction) and Peter Hook, tugging at the stomach, playing off John Vose's mediated wash of guitar and Steve Welch's measured percussion. ´Twist my hatred through the day' begins ´Colorwires'.

´Union' is the one, though. ´Everyone has a single word / I cannot sentence'. The repeated chorus states ´Union lies with your shadowed styles,' repeated like a koan with different stress until it is both a repudiation and plea for sexual comm(union): ´Give it to me, give it to me.' From the same song;

All the flowers are dying
all the televisions on
summer's ranged in the eyes of strangers
all with their mouths open
in grey green silence.

The final section seems to riff off of Dylan's riposte to heckler Ken Butler in 1966. Anyone who loves words will be intrigued. The StormTapes are launched.

© 2003 Matt Bryden