Review Summary: Sydney labrats come for the music, but stay for the party.
The success of Sydney trio Art vs. Science can be traced back to two very simple aspects of the band itself. The first is their genre. Art vs. Science play dance music – it's not “ponder the finer points of life” music, nor is it “break new ground and innovate” music. All you've really got to do is dance. There's nothing more to it, and that's why it works so well for them. Hang on, you might ask - every man and his rave-cave-dwelling dog makes dance music. What makes these guys stand out? This leads to the second point: their dedication to the cause of their genre. Their infectious enthusiasm has not so much cemented their status as a killer live act within Australia as created a giant concrete statue in the city centre. Although they haven't quite mastered the art of capturing that lightning in a bottle for their recorded material, let it be said that The Experiment
, the band's debut album, is surely their best attempt thus far.
The set-up is a basic one here between the three. Very little interferes with it: It's tight, it's focused and, perhaps best of all within the dance world, it's not content to simply stay in one place. The synthesizers – manned by vocalist Dan McNamee and Jim Finn – are front and centre of this sound, moving from style to style literally at the push of a button. It shifts from low-down whirring to high-pitched, stumbling arpeggios on the strident strut of “Higher,” recalling a younger, more shameless Beastie Boys. Similarly, the muted, beeping ambience at the beginning of “Rain Dance” teases in a manner similar to the use of organ in the breakdown of The Who's “Won't Get Fooled Again.” You just know that business will pick up wherever it might head – and, indeed, the song essentially explodes in a wild fit of liveliness with hypnotic swirls of Hammond organ and fuzzed-out bass-synth.
This is all backed up remarkably by drummer Dan Williams, a guy who can keep a rhythm but refuses to stay in the back. The dynamics and crisp sound of actual drums are an indulgence not lost on the band, who know how to use it to their advantage. It's his rumbling snare leading into a full-force, crash cymbal-heavy chorus on opener “Finally See Our Way,” while the loose hi-hats sound as though they're gasping for air in tracks like “Magic Fountain” and “Take a Look at Your Face.” The bass drum kicks through the undercurrent of “Sledgehammer,” before bowling over into a booming runaway-train drum pattern – complete with Bruce Dickinson-approved cowbell. Not even the most expensive of drum machines can get you that pumping-through-the-chest kind of feeling that Williams brings to the sound.
Of course, it wouldn't be a real experiment without a couple of spilled toxic chemicals. “New World Order” is a dumb, thudding robot-rocker, replete with wild synthesizer solos and three (count 'em, three) lines of lyrics. At nearly six minutes, it goes from inspired and fun to just plain annoying. Its successor fares worse - “Bumblebee,” one of the loudest songs on the album but by no means one of the better ones. Sure, the dance community has been kind to songs with one lyric in the whole thing – see “Right about now, the funk soul brother;” or even “Oooo-ooooh, Barbra Streisand” - but rest assured that the lyric “Well it's a bumblebee, bumblebee, bumble bumble bumble bee” does not have that kind of staying power. Rather, it's more a “throw-the-CD-out-of-the-car-and-run-over-it-repeatedly” kind of power. Keep the skip button handy for those two.
Aside from that rough patch, Art vs. Science have fared considerably well at a time when many critics were anticipating their downfall. As a matter of fact, it's where the band deviate from their solidified party-hard sound that they showcase their finer qualities. Mid-album cut “With Thoughts” is nothing short of serene, floating on a steady groove with reverberating, distortion-free keys and impressively tender vocals from the normally shouty McNamee. “Before You Came to This Place,” too, is a left-field surprise, its guitar-based funk and wide-eyed quirkiness recalling mid-period Split Enz. These are teasers into what AvS may do next – and things can really only get better from that.
is as apt a name as any, when you think about it. Art vs. Science have given a lot of different sounds, grooves and styles a go here – and not all of it is entirely successful. Really, though, given their situation and new-found reputation on the live scene, these three gents can really go nowhere but up – oh, and back to the lab, of course.