December 7, 2007

Review: Johnny Foreigner | Arcs Across The City EP

Johnny Foreigner -- Arcs Across The City EPArcs Across The City -- which could have just as easily been titled Six Clattering Explosions And One Soft One -- is the new gold standard in indie rock. After more than a decade of our comparing the merits of new recordings to monumental releases including Archers Of Loaf's Vs. The Greatest Of All Time EP; Lilys' A Brief History Of Amazing Letdowns EP; Haywood's Men Called Him Mister; The Lemonheads' Lovey; Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie; et cetera; Johnny Foreigner's mini-album sets a bar for this decade and -- based on our proclivity to peg our affections to certain albums for inordinate lengths of time -- perhaps some of the next.

The band professes a love for Kinsella-spawned music and generally anything "Chicago in 1997," although it isn't much of a stretch to peg the trio of Alexei, Junior and Kelly as simply less wacky than Minus The Bear but more damaged than Treepeople, either. Despite a reverence for bygone records, Johnny Foreigner's songs convulse with a markedly contemporary and granular dissection of the lives and failed romances of wage slaves and hangers-on. Miles and miles of self-aware lyrics proffer incisive commentary on young scenemakers, their decaying scenes and the desperate longing that more often than not combusts therein. After months of rocking out to MySpace rips of much of the record, we are freshly blown away by the fully realized productions -- with clean layers of slashing guitars, airy keys, thundering bass and chanted "doo doohs" -- contained on the proper release.

Johnny Foreigner's roots in England's second-largest city, the hyper-industrial and (when viewed on Google Maps) amazingly grey Birmingham, contextualize each song on their first two singles and Arcs Across The City in a drunken underdog's fighting stance: backed into a corner, probably in the wrong and with nothing to lose. The corollary to this is that we don't believe Johnny Foreigner could have come from London, or Los Angeles, or even New York, because an outside-looking-in perspective is both present in and inextricable from the band's music.

No matter the geography, the band's captivating amalgamation of scrambling tempos, breakneck changes, big melodies and clashing vocal lines earns Arcs Across The City critical raves. But more important than the copious kudos is Johnny Foreigner's rescue of British indie music from a contrived necessity to cater to dance-floor denizens. From this American's perspective, British indie music has been hamstrung and flattened by an oft-referenced proscription in UK blogs that new music must move people on the dance floor. We chalk this zealous viewpoint up to the broad success of bands like Arctic Monkeys and Scotland's Franz Ferdinand. The fits and starts in the verse of "The End And Everything After," by contrast, angularly proclaim Johnny Foreigner's independence from many UK bands' 4/4 fixation, while acknowledging great indie rock's innate need to pogo.

Arcs Across The City was released Nov. 26 on Best Before Records, the label arm of a London-based live entertainment and artist management concern. As we suspected, the set has made a sidelong entrance into the U.S. market via EMusic's digital storefront. Unless you just don't like music you should hit the link below and run over to EMusic and download the EP forthwith. As we noted as part of last week's review of the band's U.S. debut [review here], Johnny Foreigner expects to issue its first full-length recording in mid-spring. In the meantime, here is an MP3 of the second and quasi-title track of the EP.

Johnny Foreigner -- "The End And Everything After" -- Arcs Across The City EP
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[buy Arcs Across The City from EMusic right here]

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