The Battle of the British Indie Bands
I am a huge fan of British music. Specifically, I'm a huge fan of the genre of British music that used to be known ? once upon a time ? as "Britpop." Oh and how
glorious was that seminal year of Britpop, 1994: Blur, with their smash hits "Parklife" and "Boys and Girls" (off their third album, Parklife), and Oasis, with their
entries "Supersonic" and "Live Forever" (off their first album, Definitely Maybe) ruled the airwaves in the UK. Coincidentally, they also started a rivalry between
each other that Oasis themselves dubbed "The Battle of Britpop." Officially, Blur won the battle, selling 274,000 copies of Parklife to Oasis' 216,000 of Definitely
Maybe. The clear winner is still contested among fans of the respective bands, but fans of British music surely reaped the benefits.
Such a momentous battle, of course, had left an indelible mark on British music, inspiring many formidable bands in the following years to make their own claim
to the shared throne of Blur and Oasis. The Verve, among others, exploded onto the scene in 1997 with the epic "Bittersweet Symphony" from their self-title
debut, but found their success short-lived. The mid-to-late-90s also saw the appearance of the highly compelling band known as Radiohead, with the highly
enigmatic lead singer Thom Yorke. Having gotten their foot in the door with their own smash single "Creep" (The Bends, 1993), they spent the remainder of the
90s forging ahead on their own path and changing the landscape for both Britpop and rock in America. Indeed, some might say they took the throne for Britpop
after Blur and Oasis, but by the end of the 1990s, Britpop had changed.
Being 8 years old during Britpop's heyday, I was of the age to follow Britpop through its changes, and see it eventually re-emerge to fall under that most slippery
of genre classifications, "indie rock." As I was nearing the age of 18, I saw a new New Wave of British rock coming across the pond. The Libertines, Franz
Ferdinand, and Razorlight were some of the bands making 2003-2004 their year. These bands proved extremely influential to indie rock, and especially British
Of the many bands inspired by the post-punk aesthetic, two bands that have carried on the tradition may soon find themselves facing off with each other in a new
"Battle of the British Indie Rock Bands." They are the Cribs, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and the Wombats, from that most hallowed site of British rock,
Liverpool. Let us be the first to pit these two bands against each other and see who will someday emerge victorious.
On a September night two years ago, I was retiring from a night of raising heck on the Lower East Side (Sutra, 16 1st Ave on E1st St ? brilliant Wednesday night
parties), and entering into the 2nd Avenue F-train Station. After swiping my Metrocard and going past the turnstiles, I saw three young men run up the stairs, all
singing the same song. Now I love a bit of the occasional rabble-rousing, and so removed my headphones to hear the song. In voices as passionate as they were
raw, the boys belted out "BECAUSE THE MEN'S NEEDS! THE MEN'S NEEDS! ARE FULL OF GREED! FULL OF GREED!" Sure, I thought. And as I am
wont to do with just about anyone, asked what the song was.
"We're the Cribs. Biggest band in Leeds right now! Three straight nights at the Mercury Lounge (217 E Houston St, www.mercuryloungenyc.com)," said the
youngest-looking one of the three. This would turn out to be Ross Jarman, the youth-inducing drummer.
"Very cool. Are you signed?" I asked.
"Yeah. Wichita Records, in the UK," said Ross.
"Very nice. But hold up. Where's your accents?" I asked. (SPOILER ALERT!) Turns out they were originally from Long Island, as Gary and Ryan Jarman shared.
"Well best of luck, lads!" I said. "Cheers, jolly-good cheerio! And please add us on Myspace."
Sure enough, the ever-charismatic Ross did add my band on Myspace.
The above exchange goes to show how endearing the Cribs can be, both as musicians and as people. If you hadn't guessed from the last names, Gary, Ryan and
Ross Jarman are brothers, active as the Cribs since 2001. They've released three albums, The Cribs (2004), The New Fellas (2005), and Men's Needs, Women's
Needs, Whatever (2007), all on the label Wichita Recordings. The last seems to have been their big break, with the single "Men's Needs" being covered from
artists from all walks of the British spectrum, and being played ecstatically on shows like "Later?with Jools Holland" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." And
perhaps their biggest accomplishment yet? Getting the legendary ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr on board as full-time band member in 2008.
The Cribs' music is one of both style and substance. Ryan and Gary provide the vocals and respectively play bass and guitar, with the aforementioned Ross on
drums. The playing is exhilarating, while Gary sings lead with a swagger and grin, passing down wisdom earned from many a night out on the town. Objectively
speaking, it's all very, very fun and a good time is to be had by all, but there's a distinct been-there-heard-it quality from time to time. Not to say that the music is
bad at all. You'll be hard-pressed to find a single person at a Cribs' show not enthusiastically drenched in sweat (and if you do, drinks are on me).
On the other hand, we have the lads from Liverpool: The Wombats. Formed in 2003 while attending the Liverpool Institute for Arts, Matthew Murphy, Daniel
Haggis and Tord Overland-Knudsen have been working towards the dream with the kind of energy and brilliance that scientists used to start up the Large Hadron
Collider. The early shows were full of a-capella, three-part harmonies, and standup comedy in between songs. They've had only one full-length album released ?
2007's The Wombats Proudly Present: A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation (14th Floor Records), but what an album! The collection of songs are reminiscent of
an epiphanous night out on the town. Matthew sings in a voice as crisp and emotive as he spins stories of lost love, unrequited lust, and moving to New York. And
Daniel (on bass) and Tord (on drums) back him up triumphantly with harmonies and a tight rhythm meant to make the kids remember how to dance to something
that doesn't beckon you to bump'n'grind and sip Bacardi like it's "dey birthday" ? and yet have just as much fun.
The Cribs and the Wombats are very alike, partly because of the post-punk British indie rock genre that they both fall under, and partly because of the scenes
they inhabit, full of pretty kids with tight jeans and stunning swaggers. Both bands remind you of the Arctic Monkeys via shots of Jameson's, and the lessons
that go along with them. However, where they differ is definitely in their styles and their?ethics, for lack of a better word. The Cribs' Gary and Ryan have seen the
world, and they way they sing and trade off vocals will let you know that. Matthew Murphy of the Wombats has also spent many a night out on the town, but he
sees the ridiculousness of it all, and whatever he's been through, ultimately, is put forth through a laugh.
As for the music, the Cribs follow the primary colors of rock, an essential 3-piece (4-piece now) rock outfit, who ? for all intents and purposes ? rock. The
Wombats, however, hearken back to the Beatles a bit, with a tendency to focus a little bit more on border-line lush, keyboard driven productions, with three-part
harmonies exposing the underlying quirk and sense of humor that make you want to go along for the ride with them.
Perhaps it's where they are from. I am not familiar with Wakefield, but it seems that, along with Liverpool, both locales have infused a different approach to
cynicism and world-weariness upon the two bands, with the Cribs' smiling sneer contrasting the Wombats' wide-eyed grin. One final test: the charts. The Cribs'
Men's Needs peaked at number 13 on the UK charts, while the Wombats' Guide peaked at number 11. Currently on Amazon UK, the Wombats outrank the Cribs.
Final Verdict: Both the Cribs and the Wombats are bands of the same mold, with infuriatingly catchy tunes and exhilarating live shows. However, for all the
scenes, jeans and sales figures, there is one thing the Wombats put forth that the Cribs do not: heart. Listen to "Men's Needs" and "Moving to New York." Then
get back to me.
And, of course, if you can prove me wrong, drinks are on me.
Essential tracks: The Cribs ? "Men's Needs"; The Wombats ? "Moving to New York"