We Are Scientists – Helter Seltzer

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In 2016, with popular indie rock on the decline, Dan Griffiths asks if We Are Scientists' fifth studio album, Helter Seltzer, has done enough to make the cut.

Having followed the Cage The Elephant blueprint in cracking the UK music scene before their US compatriots knew who they were, indie three-piece We Are Scientists released their fifth studio album this month. Helter Seltzer arrived with a bang, lead single and first song Buckle already having received radio time after an early release. Drum-rolls and a minor riff, along with the familiar voice of Keith Murray, kick off proceedings well. “I want you to buckle when you think of me,” announces the chorus, projecting the familiar We Are Scientists themes of wistfulness and teenage-like uncertainty and rebelliousness. Having been low-key obsessed with Rules Don’t Stop after playing an obscene amount of Fifa 11 after my GCSEs, I was excited by the latest addition to a music catalogue I was vaguely familiar with and fond of.  Buckle is polished but also unpredictable and heartfelt, sounding like Nothing But Thieves with better guitars. This was a change I approved of.

However, the rest of the album left me feeling largely short-changed. The songs began to blend into one: In My Head is okay; Too Late is boring. Things improved with the introduction of the more expressive Want For Nothing and the punchy Classic Love, meaning the album was, on the whole, a positive experience. But it brought nothing new to the table and I was left wondering, when did indie rock become so boring?

The genre’s success in the ’00s can be put down to a gap in the market. No matter how good Zayn Malik’s new song may be, or how many people spontaneously combust when David Guetta drops the same bass for the 327th time, there will always be a significant demographic automatically turned off by the umbrella term ‘pop’ and all its disciples. In the past bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs have made up for being generally not very good by appealing to this demographic and churning out admittedly very good songs. The last year, however, has seen an already-burgeoning grime scene explode onto the not-quite mainstream. Artists like Skepta, who was featuring on N Dubz tracks when you were still in nappies, Chip, who’d prefer you forgot about the time he released Oopsy Daisy and focused instead on his huge list of beefs with other rappers, and fashion icon-gone-natural landmark Stormzy, have replaced generic guitar bands to occupy the ‘alternative’ seat.

This is not to say there’s no room for indie music, which will always form the basis of any given playlist I make. Rock bands like Catfish And The Bottlemen, Slaves, The Sherlocks and Pretty Vicious are swaggering off the production line as we speak, to great acclaim, and rightly so – their music is exciting and heartfelt. The net around this sort of music seems to be tightening however, and do We Are Scientists make the cut? On the basis of this album, probably not. It’s quite fun and Buckle is a great track, but no new territory is mapped here. In a week where Konnichiwa topped the iTunes album charts, followed by a dozen awful compilations and the Beyoncé and Drake love-in, where so-called music critics across the land conveniently forgot how they’d previously turned their noses up at the ‘too mainstream’ stuff churned out by two colossal personalities, Helter Seltzer made no waves. The indie rock that would once have dominated, or at least, excited the hipsters, went unnoticed, a sign of its largely tame impact.

Picks: Buckle, In My Head, Classic Love.
Rating: 2/5