Famed on the French gig circuits, indie-pop quintet Concrete Knives have started to infiltrate our ears across the Channel. Being one of our closest neighbours, it's surprising we don't find ourselves knee-deep in Gallic tunes, despite the burgeoning electronic scene – Daft Punk and M83 have wormed their way into the charts, but you're unlikely to find any Parisian crooners or boybands from Bordeaux giving Calvin Harris or RiRi a run for their money. Obviously it's easier appreciate music in your native tongue, but even the English-speaking acts from France seem to have a hard time. Concrete Knives have strived to change all that. With electric live performances making gossipy rumbles in merry old England, they've started to make themselves at home, building a dependable fanbase. Releasing their much-hyped debut, Be Your Own King, on legendary label Bella Union is a testament to how grand they've become.
'Happy Mondays', far from being a Bez-addled Madchester group, is a tender ballad with mass-chanted vocals, akin to the gentler moments of Los Campesinos! or Johnny Foreigner. It's candied, but not overly twee – it's a bit tongue in cheek. They build to a rewarding climax with snare-heavy drums, mixing elements of garage-rock with Sims-soundtrack piano for a rich, cosy texture. 'Wallpaper' is somewhat darker. They've lifted inspirations from Americana, and singer Morgane Colas sounds like she's regaling us with the tale of a fallen outlaw in the wild west. It's sullen and campfire-y, with sample-made slide-guitars and the buzzing howl of distant synthetic coyotes. 'Roller Boogie' is home to submerged strumming, pulsating beneath aquatic synths and the nimble crash of cymbal. There are folky howls, but otherwise the cut is vocal-less, allowing for added focus to the frolic-worthy fiasco and its funky bass.
Be Your Own King is loaded with a bounty of quirky indie-pop, charged with sugar-coated moments of youthful vitality. It's passionate, revolutionary (in the sense that it's full of rousing marches, warlike percussion and battlecries) and intricate. They've definitely poured their hearts and souls into the record, paying particular attention to detail in making it stand out from other guitar-meets-synth indie-pop, and it shows that they're a vivacious live presence. There's no sprawling soundscapes here, just the rampant spotlight on rhythms, pace and singalongability. The melodies are simple, lyrics often repeated: it's not going to be a difficult task to get a room of sloshed gig-goers warbling along and strutting their stuff with noises like this. It is designed for cramped venues that smell like an armpit, but it translates to record rather damn well – due to the animated nature, there's an energy and spirit not often found in conveyor belt indie-pop.
'Wild Gun Man' and 'Greyhound Racing' feature Dan Levy of The Dø, the former being a devilish rock cut with uppity lyrics of contention and featuring an organ solo, and the latter a confident whirlwind of muted guitars, bass pomp and as much 'na na na'-ing as you could possible desire. Oh, and the wholly sinister line "If you've got a throat, I've got a knife," hidden amongst the peppy grins. 'Blessed' is more tranquil, not entirely so, but the crunching guitar chords and ethereal wailing are less pacey than most of the LP, providing a suitable finalé. It's toned down, but still rich with emotion and desolate melody.
Concrete Knives have done well thus far in getting their name out there, and with a UK tour commencing this March, the five compadres should succeed in garnering more followers. They've done the hard part now the album is out, so they can concentrate on what they do best: rocking on stage, making crowds bounce and join in the massive party. Be Your Own King is almost like a taster of what's to come at their shows, teasing you and tantalising your earbuds. It's highly likely that the music itself will sound largely similar played in front of you, after all, the album sounds like a bootleg from one of their concerts. They're wholeheartedly fun with an incessant joy for life and youth; as a result they've made collection of songs that are a fresh take on an old genre.