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I, Shit 

You and me and the Bravery, sitting around, full of it

Wednesday, Mar 23 2005
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Critics are full of shit, and we know it. It's actually part of our job description: "Must be able to turn own waste into prettily phrased collection of buzzwords and underused adjectives." It's also in the rock star job description: "Must be able to gobble up and then defecate onstage and in the studio what someone, somewhere is looking for right now."

When this whole crap-generating/ consuming process gets blown into extreme, silly proportions, you get to read about bands like the Bravery every time you hold court on your throne. If you don't remember coming across this troupe, allow me to remind: The Bravery would be those stylish men in black with the fetchingly lined eyes à la Ronnie Spector and dreamily morose scowls à la Robert Smith (or the other way around) gazing out at you from the pages of Spin, Rolling Stone, Blender, and even Entertainment Weekly over the past few months. What? That's been the spread on every page of every music publication for the last three years? OK, then, the Bravery is the band that Garrett Kamps proclaimed "so full of shit" in these very pages just a couple months back. What? You don't read Garrett's column? Well, no matter -- we'll come back to him. The Bravery is also the band soon to be (if not already) coming at you from every hipster's MP3 player, alternative radio station, and WB soundtrack. Or, to put it another way, the Bravery is the kind of band for whom the term "hype" was invented.

The Bravery is five New York hip kids picked to live in a scummy apartment and make an album using only Radio Shack mikes and an old iMac while we watch what happens when people stop being nice and start being .... No, I'm just messing with you. But that's the impression you get from that quintet's press release and just about everything that's been written about the act.

And that's part of the problem. The Bravery's story is the stuff of journalistic wet dreams, the kind of PR fodder we can cuddle up to for a couple hours or just as quickly dismiss as a meaningless one-night stand.

Here we have five chic hotties who've made a very trendy album out of bits and pieces of DIY rawk technology, merging disco, post-punk, and big, whopping chunks of neo-new wave while living together in a New York City apartment. Singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter Sam Endicott and keyboardist John Conway were friends from college, as were guitarist Michael Zakarin and bassist Mike H. Drummer Anthony Burulcich was introduced to the lot by a mutual friend.

Bringing a range of personal influences spanning the gamut of rock history, from the Clash to Muddy Waters to the Velvet Underground to Elvis, the group coalesced under a shared desire to create rock music that is danceable. Zakarin, on the phone between stops on the Southern portion of the band's current U.S. tour in support of its eponymous debut, says, "Music originally was made to dance to. That's the purpose of rock music, so we just kind of wanted to make sure that people got that point and tried to, like -- music is going in the right direction and we just kind of wanted to make sure it continues to do that."

Zakarin also claims that the Bravery's album "has kind of electronic elements because electronic instruments are just more affordable now, so we use them." Whether its sound is the product of necessity or a stylistic choice, the record is undeniably reminiscent of those halcyon, iridescent, synth-driven days of the early 1980s.

In fact, tired as it may be to cry "derivative," it's hard not to draw comparisons to the Killers borrowing from Interpol channeling Joy Division. "An Honest Mistake," The Bravery's first single, is the new "Mr. Brightside" (from the Killers' Hot Fuss), all studied apathetic relationship pathos voiced by a Morrissey junkie and backed by smooth, hollow keys and a jangly guitar: "Sometimes/ I forget I'm still awake/ I fuck up and say these things out loud," with the "fuck" heavily accented just to up the jaded ante.

The Bravery dabbles in a few other genres, as well. "Swollen Summer" blends synthy panache with garage rock's buzzy guitars and rough vocals. The band gets a little "do the Hustle" action happening on "Public Service Announcement" (are we done with that song title yet?), with its group-choreography-ready chorus ("Stop, drop, and roll"), sassy falsetto, and four-on-the-floor beat.

On "Fearless," however, the act starts to get at some of its own mythology. Over a strutting beat and cocksure guitar (which gets a little too sure of itself and just an eensy bit off-key at times), Endicott pops and prances his vocals across lyrics like "The best time I've ever had/ Waiting around for something bad."

The song seems at first listen to be about sex and the exhilaration of a new relationship, but it also speaks to the alleged ethos inherent in the band's name. The Bravery's press release quotes various members talking about the name's connection to New Yorkers, who are "constantly waiting for something bad to happen." Zakarin now says it has more to do with "not fucking giving in to [the] constant anxiety that everyone goes through," and with the band's own inner struggle over how large a leap to take with the whole music thing back in the days when everyone was paying his dues, working "crap jobs," and generating DIY Internet buzz like good burgeoning rock stars.

A bunch of kids who overcame hipster ennui through a cyber-self-promoted album designed for dancing your cares away? This is the kind of narrative that the media loves to devour in one of our ritual feeding frenzies. The Bravery is not, in Zakarin's own words, meant to be a thinking man's album. "We've had so many years of music when people just take it really serious and think too hard at shows and no one moves ... people are also surprisingly starting to get the point as well and that's just to loosen up -- don't fucking take it so seriously." Indeed.

The Bravery is just another in a long line of what my friend calls "definitive article" bands -- the ones pronounced the second coming of the Strokes (Jesus, did we need a first coming?). Yes, these guys create derivative music. And yes, they are full of shit. But so am I and so is Garrett and so are you. We all spin our own mythologies every day (come on, you know you weren't that wasted or that crazy last night) to make ourselves more interesting than we are. A critic's job is to make inflammatory comments about new things so that people can get riled up about something other than their bosses, their significant others, and the current administration. A band's job is to make something that will hold your interest, even if it's just for a moment on the dance floor.

The Bravery isn't meant to change the world, and the band members know it. They aren't even necessarily meant to do anything all that new. But as long as they don't get so full of shit (theirs and that of the music industry, which includes critics) that you can smell them coming a mile away, there's no harm in a little derivative dance rock. Just do like they say and don't think about it too much.

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Rachel Devitt

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