Kaiser Chiefs, ‘Employment’ (Universal) British Sea Power, ‘Open Season’ (Rough Trade)
Coldplay sent a rush of blood to Britpop’s head, inadvertently greasing the transatlantic trade routes for a deluge of weedy guitar bands. And because we Yanks nobly suffered through Starsailor et al. last year, we were rewarded with Franz Ferdinand, who have ushered in a far more appealing wave of loose, funked-up dancerock eager to liberate our car radios and monopolize our teen soaps.
Formed in Leeds during the summer of 2003, Kaiser Chiefs are one of the youngest of these new acts, and they sound like it. On their smart debut, Employment, the quintet bash through nervy, synth-stoked guitar pop about Saturday nights, shirts with name tags, and the uncommon luck of being born a dancer. Frontman Ricky Wilson is an average singer but an extraordinary melodist; every tune here–from the Buzzcocks crunch of “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” to the Todd Rundgren sweep of “You Can Have It All”–sticks to the ribs like Marmite on toast. Still, even Elbow had a few great melodies. What gives Kaiser Chiefs their extra kick is the same trick that worked for Blur before Damon Albarn joined the pan-global beat guerrillas: a dedication to daffy English humor and bouncy musichall folderol that creates the illusion of cultural import. In “I Predict a Riot,” the band’s U.K. hit, Wilson describes a dodgy street skirmish while a creepy Hammond organ pumps behind him; when he launches into the “la, la, la” chorus, you can practically hear the rabid footballers howling along with him.
If this new scene can uncover hot new talent, it can also age a band prematurely. On their 2003 debut, Brighton’s British Sea Power sounded like earnest Pixies fans, coughing up serrated guitar noise to accompany their breathless vocals and lost-in-the-forest stage sets. Yet Open Season finds these mysterious lads already advancing into their suave Roxy Music phase, draping sweeping melodies over expansive arrangements that feature strings, keys, and field recordings of chirping birds. “I wrote elegiac stanzas for you,” frontman Yan croons in the heated opener, lighting a way for all the young dudes not yet thinking about aging gracefully. Modern life: still rubbish.