“Why not make this interesting?” sings We Are Scientists’ guitarist and singer Keith Murray, breaking into the chorus of the first track, ‘Buckle’, on the fifth release from the New York based duo. These five words are particularly apt because that is something that the band are doing – taking the years of industry experience, watching their world grow around them, and ensuring they grow with it. The sounds you hear on ‘Helter Seltzer’ are a far cry from the debut ‘With Love & Squalor’, though this is by far a negative. Of course, we all pine for a return to the urgent and raw sounds of 2006, but here we are 10 years later with an evolved, maturer (in some aspects) band.
This change shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s been a gradual process, with 2011’s ‘Barbara’ perhaps being the hardest pill to swallow, but the foundations of We Are Scientists haven’t left, they’re still here, enveloped in a solid, confident sound. Taking calls from 80’s pop and blending them with seas of harmonising vocals, the more you listen to ‘Helter Seltzer’ the more you hear.
The first introduction to this next phase came in the form of the aforementioned ‘Buckle’. Ripping straight in with pounding drums, that over the course of the track do not relent, the accompanying bass glues together the instrumentation and vocals, with the lyrical content carrying on that of previous album ‘TV En Francais’ which saw Murray open up more so than ever in regards to love and squalor. The chorus explodes as the sound gathers creating a rousing statement, one that makes you hit repeat a bit too much.
Mildly petering out ‘In My Head’ is introduced with a flurry of soft guitar before more thundering drums move it forward. The verse breaks in and things get a little darker, with brooding low synths creating a base layer to the sound, and once more the chorus kicks. Another arena-worthy sound erupts, with the resolve being it just dropping out back into the verse. The sound just gets larger as the song progresses, showing We Are Scientists have truly mastered that art of pop. The electrical/synth components continue heavily into ‘Too Late’, which is a powerful 80’s throwback, even the drums are reverb drenched.
‘Hold On’ is perhaps the first sign of weakness in the album, but as the song goes through the motions around the two minute mark everything drops out until we’re left with just Murray’s voice, “You go be unimpressed, you and your unfair assumptions’. Not only does this feel like a call out to those harking for the glory days, but it also just opens up a new realm of depth to the song, like a brief moment of audible purgatory. ‘We Need A Word’ continues the 80’s ballad approach, tying into ‘Want For Nothing’ that just goes straight to being an acoustically led number, that builds into a soaring orchestration of loneliness.
The nearest we’re getting to the ’06 sound is the guitar on ‘Classic Love’, opening with a furious guitar riff that sporadically cuts in throughout the track. The drums keep things on track, matching the urgency. This drops away again with ‘Waiting For You’, another acoustically led track, that is perhaps the most longing on the album. Once the first chorus hits the wandering guitar riff is a mere glimpse into what awaits at the end, marrying the soft acoustic sound with the harsher electric sounds of the bass creates a solid platform for the emotive lyrical content.
‘Headlights’ pushes forward with fast tempo straightforward rock music, plus another dose of synthesiser creating the airy layer that is ever so pleasing. Finale ‘Forgiveness’ is the most experimental in terms of sound, Murray’s guitar is used as both a foundation for the song in the form of repetitive loops, coupled with piercing solos and fat, driving chords, while Chris Cain’s bass is the perfect accompaniment, as it has been throughout the entire record.
For a fifth album, not to mention countless EP’s, We Are Scientists have avoided any unnecessary repetition in sound and although, as mentioned previously, it may not suit the ’06 purists that crave the sound of the early days, the fact they can keep things fresh at this point is testament to the talent they’ve graced us with. Let’s hope the next album continues this progression.
This We Are Scientists article was written by Steven Loftin, a GIGsoup contributor