WE ARE SCIENTISTS with the OXFORD COLLAPSE and the DIABLEROS at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (January 14). $10.50-$12. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Timing can be such a bitch.
Consider We Are Scientists, the Brooklyn three-piece whose spiky, deliriously danceable debut created a modest buzz bonanza when it came out in the UK last October. Released about two weeks after Franz Ferdinand's sophomore effort, the stylish 21st-century new wave joints on the Scientists' With Love And Squalor (Virgin/EMI) album seemed tailor-made for Brit tastemakers committed to pogoing along to the waning post-punk revival's angular swan song.
Jump forward to the early days of 2006, and the January 10 release of With Love And Squalor seems a bit confounding. Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs are officially last year's news, Gang of Four's comeback effort died in the water, and nobody cared about the Bravery in the first place. Even the Franz lads haven't managed to get it up the way they used to.
Luckily, Keith Murray, the singing, guitar-playing member of We Are Scientists, laughs off the bizarre scheduling with the bone-dry humour that characterizes his band's piss-take lyrics.
"Oh, let's be honest - people were over the dancey rock thing last October," he snorts over the phone from NYC, where he, bassist Chris Cain and hirsute drummer Michael Tapper are taking a break after playing Letterman. "People don't want it. They're done. But I almost don't care whether or not we're liked.
"I suppose it'll feel bad if we get a bunch of reviews like "If only they could've invented time machines and gone back to when this music was cool,' but if the music wasn't totally stale in October it shouldn't be crumbling off the loaf, so to speak, by January."
Murray has a penchant for po-faced analogies and good-natured zingers. He's a former English major whose deft balance of geeky hyper-verbosity and no-bullshit frankness is exactly what you'd expect, considering We Are Scientists named their album after the title of a Salinger short story. (Don't bring it up; he feels sheepish about their literary pretensions.)
That self-deprecating affability is actually what makes With Love And Squalor such a surprisingly addictive listen. You have to love a group of late-in-the-game trend-hoppers who can pull off a song called This Scene Is Dead, then turn around and thumb their noses at both sellouts and industry oafs on Cash Cow.
We Are Scientists are also surprisingly good at writing hella catchy dance-floor-fillers about drinking, girls and sex in the most disarmingly anti-macho way. On the standout Inaction, a tangled mass of snarly guitars, call-and-response choruses and wall-shaking syncopated rhythms, Murray follows up a mention of weeks spent waking up on someone's floor with the best summary of the Indie Rock Dude ever (the Faint's Desperate Guys excepted).
With such a gleeful investment in taking the piss out of themselves and their target fan base you can't help but wonder whether there's been any listener backlash.
Murray says they're not wringing their hands in anticipation of being bitchslapped by a throng of angry dudes with faux mullets.
"People only get upset when they don't know where we're coming from, though that'd probably be the bulk of humanity. In interviews, we'll make jokes about other bands, with no teeth involved, like more of an "insert name here' generic quip," says shit-disturber Murray, "but then we find out later that the bands got really pissed off. I sometimes want to call up the Bravery and apologize for certain things that were said in jest. I think a shrugging effect is sometimes misconstrued as a middle finger. But if people are getting offended by us taking the piss, then they deserve it."
He can dish it out, but can Murray take it? I ask if he feels uncomfortable about the fact that We Are Scientists are poised to follow in the Killers' footsteps as the new North American torchbearers of post-Duran Duran guilty-pleasure dance pop.
"I'd have some dismay about recognizing that people associate guilt with enjoying something, but I'd much rather be accessible and indulgent than some kind of intellectual pleasure that isn't a pleasure at all, some elitist experience you can write about in your blog or something.
"The extreme opposite would be up-front dissatisfaction, which isn't good either. In terms of the spectrum of pleasurable things, though, I'd rather be a guilty pleasure than something academic."