- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bravery

Stir the Blood

Island Records

It’s no accident that American bands do Britpop passably well. It’s been at least 25 years since the epic rhythm-guitar part that opens U2’s “Pride” crashed on these shores. The delay-driven choppiness is itself a kind of Ur-riff for bands of a certain type - Britpop’s own blues. Nor is it an accident that the American bands that channel this brand of driving yet ambient sound typically come out of New York City, where a person could walk from tavern to tavern up and down the island of Manhattan in the 1990s and be sure of hearing at least one track from “The Unforgettable Fire” at every stop.

What’s interesting is that the American bands that grew up under the influence of this sound typically emerge from the independent underground. Typically categorized under the rubric of the garage revival, bands like the Strokes, Interpol and the National (no matter how successful) are thought of as indie darlings made good, not national sensations like the United Kingdom’s Coldplay or Arctic Monkeys.

It’s no surprise, then, to learn that the Bravery, a Brooklyn-based band just out with its third studio album, is marketed like a group of rock stars in the United Kingdom, while here they take pains to come across like a band that went to sleep in the backroom of a Lower East Side club and woke up with a record contract.

Singer Sam Endicott (a native of Bethesda) sings with a bit of British inflection, and guitarist Michael Zakarin brings the Edge-inflected guitar, as on the track “I Want to Be Your Skin.” It channels all of the dark obsession of bands like Simple Minds and New Order, but with a touch of edgy playfulness. The generational smackdown “I Have Seen the Future” also comes with a pleasingly nervous delivery and self-mocking wit as Mr. Endicott sings, “We are a nerve ending/without a brain.”

The band released “Slow Poison” as a single. Like a lot of the other songs, its muddle of influences makes it sound blandly familiar. It manages the neat Brit-pop trick of melding an uptempo beat with an ethereal synth part, with the vocals anchoring the melody.

The Bravery does better here on the slower songs. “She’s So Bendable,” with its cool background vocal line; simple bass part; and crunchy, languorously sustained guitar chords, sounds like a pop take on a Galaxie 500 track. “Red Hands and White Knuckles” sounds a bit more contemporary despite its conspicuously retro synth and what passes for the reggae-inflected beats of the new wave.

By and large, “Stir the Blood” fails to stir, even in a modest, mopey sort of way. The songs here borrow the simple formula that served them well on their first record but fail to summon the same energy and lo-fi feeling.

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