Queer power trio Ex-Boyfriends make heartbreak seem fun
Nothing sparks a creative streak like a painful breakup. For all the songs written about love, heartbreak endures as the superior motivator. In the case of San Francisco trio Ex-Boyfriends, breakups inspire the material as well as the impetus for the band’s inception.
Formed in 2003 when guitarist and vocalist Colin Daly and drummer and singer Chris Ohnesorge both found themselves in the cold after their respective bands split up, the twosome was initially what one might call “a rebound project.” It didn’t take long, however, before Daly and Ohnesorge found a common ground and recruited bassist Peter Harb to round out the band’s sound.
Staying true to their origins, they christened themselves the Ex-Boyfriends. As their material shows, however, the name was more than just a cute choice for these bitter lovers. Like the kiss-off that their debut album’s title implies, “Dear John” is harsh and brutally honest never mushy or overly sentimental.
Plying the sort of punchy rock popularized by Weezer and The Alkaline Trio, Ex-Boyfriends seem incapable of writing tunes that aren’t immediately catchy. Tracks in the three-minute range dash from verse to hook in record time. Though most songs could no doubt be sung as gender-neutral, Daly makes a point of keeping the romances unabashedly queer.
“Dear John” would be laudable even without impressive lyrics. Fortunately, Ex-Boyfriends have that department filled as well. Album opener “Him for Me” is a particularly good example. On that taut hook-driven rocker, Daly chides a former lover in no uncertain terms, honestly but without a hint of emotional attachment.
Other equally enjoyable tracks include the satisfying tell-off “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” and left-for-last marvel “I’m.” Capturing the defiant edge of love gone wrong in a way that most of us never manage to pull off in real life, “Dear John” proves to be a satisfying listen for anyone who has ever found themselves on the receiving end of a nasty romantic surprise.
Belle & Sebastian
“The Life Pursuit”
On their five previous records, Belle & Sebastian never delved into what could reasonably be called “rock music.” The chamber-pop ensemble’s sound is pretty, charming and often precious. A few ’60s R&B imitators aside, this acoustic-laced Scottish act have always resided in pop music’s daintier quarter. What a difference an album can make.
Working with producer Tony Hoffer (Air, Beck), Belle & Sebastian discover an entirely new palette on their newest release, “The Life Pursuit.” No longer just a smart band with a clever turn of phrase and a flute solo, on this album, the group cut loose like kids in a candy store, offering a sweet blend of funk, ’60s-era pop, and even gasp! guitar solos. This departure in style makes “Life Pursuit” one their most memorable works.
In spite of the big changes, “Life Pursuit” begins like a typical B&S record: sharp, quaint and terribly obsessed with melody and harmony. “The Act of the Apostle” and “Another Sunny Day” are both strong tracks, perhaps distinguished by their upbeat tempos, but not entirely surprising. It’s only then that you’ll notice something new.
The next track, “White Collar Boy,” is certainly unlike anything we’ve heard from Belle & Sebastian. With a beat that sounds borrowed from Gary Glitter and a synth bass-line to match, the track has the cool strut of T. Rex or early David Bowie. The oddness doesn’t stop there, as the following track,
“The Blues are Still Blue” follows the same aesthetic, albeit a little less audaciously.
The experimentation continues throughout “The Life Pursuit.” “Funny Little Frog” could pretty easily have been a long-lost Elton John single, while the psychedelic pop of “We Are the Sleepyheads” sounds resurrected from
“Top of the Pops,” circa 1971. Elsewhere, we find slinky funk, lounge jazz and even a laidback danceable pop in “Sukie In the Graveyard.”
Although traces of the old Belle & Sebastian emerge now and then, it’s the new direction that’s most fascinating. Newcomers and lapsed fans alike will be well-advised to snatch up this album. It’s not often that you get to hear a tiger change its stripes.
Sigur Ros bring their orchestral rock from North Sea to North Texas
Sigur Ros’ music is often compared to the harsh, barren landscape of the group’s home, Iceland. That’s because it’s so difficult to get a grip on the band’s sound. In an era when just about everyone sounds like a cross between band X and group Y, Sigur Ros sound like no one else. Dense, orchestral and unapologetically theatrical, their sound makes the group seem from outer space.
Led by queer singer Jon Por “Jonsi” Brigisson, pictured, whose younger sister shares a name with the band, Sigur Ros may as well actually be aliens for all they communicate about themselves to the outside world. Notoriously reserved in interviews, the group has next to nothing to say about their influences, their approach to songwriting or even any insights into just what they may be trying to accomplish.
By all accounts, Jonsi is a typical Reykjavik resident, albeit a gay, hippie-vegan one. He sings exclusively in falsetto, and mostly an Icelandic-sounding gibberish dubbed “Hopelandish.” He plays his guitar in the tradition of Jimmy Page bowing the instrument rather than strumming. And if interviews are to be believed, he’s quite the heavy metal fan and particularly fond of Iron Maiden.
So again the question arises: Just who are these guys?
Jonsi and the group continue to insist that they’re just typical Icelanders, independent souls whose good times just happened to earn them tens of thousands of fans around the world. Strangely, it may be true that Iceland’s arctic atmosphere influenced the sound of Sigur Ros, though not in the way usually imagined. Tucked into their small corner of the world, the quartet looked into the chill and found warmth, crafting the sound in their converted-indoor-swimming-pool studio.
Bass Performance Hall, 525 Commerce St., Fort. Worth, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. Sold out. 817-212-4280.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 24, 2006.