We Are Scientists: underrated '00s indie heroes charm with late-night vibes on 'Lobes'
The underappreciated New York band are amongst the most consistent of the last two decades and mix it up for their synth-heavy eighth album.
For some reason, the legacy of the ‘00s indie sleaze era has forgotten We Are Scientists. Where mediocre bands like The Kooks (there, I said it) can play anniversary tours, receive daily plays on British radio and rack up hundreds of millions of listening streams, We Are Scientists' impact remains largely unrecognised. This is strange. Despite being one of the most charismatic bands from that era they barely feature in any of the recent media fawning over this period (no mention in Lizzy Goodman’s New York noughties rock 'n' roll book Meet Me In The Bathroom book, for example).
Then again, maybe I'm biased. My first introduction to their music was during my freshers year at the University of Glasgow. Many of their tunes (alongside The Strokes, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand) soundtracked our weekly flat parties and the daily commute to campus. Being young, dumb and broke, this fast-paced brand of lyrically love torned indie rock just hit the spot. And seeing them live years later was an absolute treat: a sweaty hour of jumping around and in-between song comedy, ensuring you left the venue with a massive ear-to-ear smile.
The New York via California band are the story of two men: guitarist and frontman Keith Murray and bassist Chris Cain, changing up the drumming position a number of times over the years. They met each other at a Dawson’s Creek viewing party, of all places, in the late ‘90s. For me they’ve always held all the ingredients for a great garage rock ‘00s band: edge, charisma, wit, and, above all else, the music was a whole load of fun!
Following the release of With Love In Squalor in 2005 (a forgotten classic, in my eyes), We Are Scientists found a decent level of success on this side of the pond, becoming an important player in the then thriving UK guitar scene. So much so, many fans of the genre are still surprised to hear they are, in fact, American! This was in large thanks to becoming darlings of the NME, at this point a publication possessing the power to break any band they so desired. It certainly helped when they were selected to play the 2006 NME Shockwaves Tour alongside Mystery Jets, Arctic Monkeys and Maxïmo Park. The buzz from the UK slowly spread Stateside and the trio even performed ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ on The Late Show With David Letterman in December 2005.
With a steady flow of solid records released since (the highlight being 2014’s TV en Français), today We Are Scientists’ output feels underappreciated. Thankfully they remain undeterred.
We Are Scientists' eighth studio album Lobes has been presented as a sister album to 2021’s Huffy and is best described as a late-night synth-heavy record designed for post-midnight city driving. Speaking to Psychedelic Baby Magazine, Keith Murray recognises their new direction, describing it as being “more electronic, dancier, ambitious in their production and arrangements, but still easy as hell to down like a spectacular, fruity cocktail on a light-up dance floor.” It’s hard to disagree, Lobes has so many earworms in its arsenal. The late-night aspired sound sees We Are Scientists explore unfamiliar funky territory. They may be removed from their garage rock origins, but the record just sounds so refreshing, the band able to escape the one-dimensional criticisms which often followed them in the past.
Our first taste of Lobes came in the form of ‘Operator Error’, a track which also happens to open the record. And wow, what a euphoric curtain-raiser this is. Sugary and impassioned, the track’s short length leaves us delicious for more. “Cut the shit, enough of this / Do you believe me? Don't pretend to doubt it” proclaims Murray in the chorus, his argumentative side gleaming through - their best song in almost a decade (dating back to 2014’s ‘Return the Favor’). It's immediately followed by the bass-driven ‘Dispense With Sentiment’, another smooth and hooky synth-pop number packed with punch.
‘Lucky Just To Be Here’ holds the album’s emotional heart, throwing in shades of atmosphere and an explosive final third. The Balearic vibes are strong on ‘Turn It Up’, hints of the indie-dance crossover power of Two Door Cinema Club strong without the influence being too overwhelming.
Nile Rogers-inspired guitars introduce ‘Settled Accounts’. This is a track the band has described as “their funkiest tune yet”. What was their last preview single ahead of the album’s release, brings together the old with the new: a classic disco appeal mixed with a futuristic synth-laced dancefloor sound. All held together by another vulnerable earworm chorus: “You're taking me through settled accounts / And, somehow, I end up even less sure”.
As much as I enjoyed the record, there are still one or two mishaps. On ‘Human Resources’ We Are Scientists stray a little too close to sounding like The Killers to fully enjoy. The chorus is distracting in its Brandon Flowers soundalike ability and the cheesy metal solo sounds out of place when played alongside the other tracks: the album’s weakest track. Added to this, ‘Parachute’ goes through the motions and plays out without much desire to return.
‘Less From You’ and ‘Miracle of 22’ bring the album to a close. The former edges just on the right side of guilty pleasure: the brightness and funkiness winning us over. On the latter mentioned 'Miracle of 22', we have a mid-tempo synth-pop track which leaves us on an ominous note though it doesn't reach the high standards set in the first half.
We Are Scientists new late-night vision finds the perfect balance in its retro disco feel and futuristic synth-pop style. Despite the change in approach, the charisma and punchiness still remain. All in all, it slaps...pretty hard for the most part. The underappreciated heroes of the indie sleaze era are here to bring a little mood and light to your evening.