We Are Scientists are an indie rock/alternative/dance-punk band hailing from California. I became hooked on this band after hearing their 2006 major label debut With Love and Squalor (named after a J.D. Salinger short story) and have championed them since then. The band benefited a lot during the indie rock craze of the mid-2000’s, and found themselves successful in the UK, where their shows and albums sold like hotcakes, and they toured with bands like Arctic Monkeys, Editors, Art Brut and Kings of Leon. Unfortunately, they’ve long been underrated in their native United States. But the band has carried on with charm, catchy hooks, and a killer sense of humor that sets them apart from the often stuffy and serious bands around today.
The two consistent members of the band are singer/guitarist Keith Murray and the underrated bassist Chris Cain. The band formed in 1999, and released music throughout lineup changes (Murray was originally the drummer) and label issues in the early 2000’s. We Are Scientists eventually signed to Virgin Records in 2005 and enlisted a then-unknown Ariel Rechtshaid to produce With Love and Squalor. Like most fans of the band, I had never heard of or paid attention to them until this album. Thus, this Artist Spotlight will focus on the band starting with this album to the present day.
With Love and Squalor is one of my favorite rock records of the 2000’s, and one that still sounds fresh on repeat listens. The album is chock full of tight, melodic indie songs describing the confusion of youth and trouble you can get into when you’re bored, alienated, and looking for a good time. You can compare the record to the debut album by Arctic Monkeys, early tour mates of the band. The album was popular in the UK, going Gold and spawning some popular singles. In the U.S, it was well-received but mostly overlooked, which is a shame. However, the band got some attention on MTV for a trio of music videos for the singles released from With Love and Squalor (The Great Escape, Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt and It’s A Hit). All three were directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island, who were just starting to become popular. The three videos show off what makes We Are Scientists such a great band: crunchy guitars, danceable drums, meaty basslines, catchy hooks, clever lyrics, and a sense of humor that livens up the proceedings. In addition to these songs, I recommend the whole album, including tracks like “The Scene Is Dead”, “Inaction”, “Can’t Lose”, and “Lousy Reputation”.
After the cult success of With Love and Squalor and the departure of drummer Michael Tapper, WAS released Brain Thrust Mastery in 2008. The record was once again produced by Rechtshaid, and featured the band incorporating more synths and drum machines into their songs. Like With Love and Squalor, the album was a hit in the UK, with singles “Chick Lit” and “After Hours” becoming popular on the charts. The latter song is perhaps their best known in America, thanks to another hilarious video directed by Akiva Schaffer and its prominent usage in the film Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It’s a lovely, sweet pop song with an earworm hook, and I highly recommend it:
The band released their third album, Barbara, in 2010. Once again produced by Rechtshaid, it featured Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows as a full-time member, and was a return to the catchy indie rock of their debut. I consider it their second-best album, after With Love and Squalor. Below are my two favorite songs from the album:
After Barbara, the band left their record label and fired their management. It wasn’t until 2014 that they could release their next album, TV en Francais. The record incorporates a slower, stripped down sound, and sounds more pop and college rock than indie. It has some good songs on it, but my favorite from this period is a standalone single released before the album, a lovely song called “Something About You”.
The band is still going strong, releasing the album Helter Seltzer last year. In addition to being a great rock band, We Are Scientists is one of the funniest, down-to-earth bands around right now. Almost every music video, interview, or live performance is used to show off the silly side of the band. Their social media accounts are populated with puns and videos where they explore some wacky idea while on the road. Perhaps the best example of their humor can be found in the MTV UK web-series Steve Wants His Money, the first episode of which is available here. The “plot” consists of Murray and Cain fleeing to England to avoid some guy named Steve that they owe money to, but that’s just a vehicle to display the duo pitching ridiculous ideas to people in the music industry, and failing miserably.
We Are Scientists are unappreciated, but have a catalog full of catchy songs about youth, and the inevitability of growing older. They’re funny, original, and approachable. To use the old, obnoxious cliché: they’re the type of guys you’d want to grab a beer with after their show.