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Art of Fighting - Wires

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Artist: Art of Fighting

Album: Wires

Label: 3 Beads of Sweat

Review date: Apr. 17, 2003

More than the Sum

Wires starts so gently that you hardly notice its first words: "so little left of you." Ollie Browne murmurs this lyric and countless others as though dreaming, the way Thom Yorke used to before his lemon-sucking days; the way that caught on so quickly in the rest of the United Kingdom. The guitar, bass, and drums behind him follow suit, keeping up in a pensive amble, never too loud, never too fast. Art of Fighting wield moderation not because it's tasteful, but because it feels like all they've got left.

The constituent parts of Wires aren't overwhelmingly impressive by themselves. Browne's shy falsetto, the innocuously strummed chords, the lightly brushed drums, the poetry of persistent despair – they all work well enough, but they're also old hat in non-American Anglophone countries. At least the bands who come to mind for immediate comparison — Radiohead, Coldplay, Travis — all have excellent catalogs to stand behind. But there's something even more to Wires, something in the way all the parts are combined with such poise and insistence, that puts Art of Fighting on the same pedestal as their influences rather than the shelf of imitators.

You get the feeling that instead of three lads (whose names are either Brown or Browne) and a lass from Australia, Art of Fighting are really old, slight gentlemen, soft-spoken and wise beyond question. As though their gravitas is a given without ever having to raise a voice, they don't seem big on emphasis of any kind, and for that reason Wires feels, at first, like a lot of the same. True enough, there's only one kind of song here; each track builds slowly to an emotive peak, layering on the vocals or guitar without ever getting much louder, and each shares the same essence of passive melancholy. Still, each has its own rich melody and particular brand of sadness, different enough from the last so that the succession is not tiresome but all the more absorbing.

If anything is surprising about Wires, it's the scarcity of weak moments. You'd expect almost an hour of nigh-on-slowcore to dry up now and then, or at least stumble onto some of the clichés assumed by the dreamy Britpop sound, but if Art of Fighting don't sidestep the landmines completely they make it supremely easy to ignore them. Among the songs are winners and a few champions, but no losers. The ever-rising tension of "Just Say I'm Right" makes it almost frighteningly compelling, while the chorus of "In No Good Way" adds urgency to the tempered angst of Low. Meanwhile, the oddly triumphant closer "Something New" blends the imminent release of Coldplay's "Everything's Not Lost," the soaring pleas of Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely," and the unsympathetic beauty of Sigur Rós's "Svefn-G-Englar." These are formidable references, but the result surpasses the sum of the ingredients.

For all its pretentious rhetoric and near-interchangeability, the pantheon of bittersweet British pop (and its corresponding colonies throughout the world) redeems itself every so often with something beautiful. From the Beatles onward, each new phase of the cycle spins in some unique and remarkable directions. Wires channels moments from all of the above bands, but transmits some unique memories as well - and all of them hold enough quiet splendor to guarantee Art of Fighting their own spot in the next round.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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