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We Are Scientists – TV En Français, Sous La Mer

  • Written by  David Lownds

We Are Scientists have released quite a few acoustic versions of their previous output, and the quality of such material is varied. In spite of this inconsistency, it is an exciting prospect when the group, one of the best indie bands of this century, releases an album, especially when that record is a chilled reincarnation of one of their finest efforts, 2014’s TV en Français.

Taking into account such anticipation, TV en Français, Sous La Mer’s opener, ‘Dumb Luck, Under the Sea’ is a disappointment: it is too basic. Bass can be heard faintly but gets drowned in the mix, and the percussion is not that loud either. Furthermore, the great riff at the end of the chorus and the main riff from the original are absent from this collection’s composition, and while you might expect the band to forgo the latter for a chilled version of the song, the former really gives the original an added kick. Without its presence in any form the version frankly sounds dull, even if it does recall Pixies’ ‘Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)’.

The aforementioned missing elements from ‘Dumb Luck’ are not the only things noticeably absent from TV en Français, Sous La Mer. ‘Slow Down, Under the Sea’ loses much of its original counterpart’s energy and power, and the same can be said of ‘Return the Favor, Under The Sea’, which lacks the grittiness of the part including the solo on the original, ‘Return the Favor’. At the beginning of ‘Don’t Blow It, Under the Sea’ there are chords instead of beautiful picking, and the song’s backing vocals arguably lack passion and vigour, adding little.

The above is not all that is wrong with this album. Like this collection’s version of ‘Dumb Luck’, the performance of ‘Overreacting, Under the Sea’ is oversimplified, its tempo too slow and its chords played too infrequently. There are strange gaps in ‘Return the Favor, Under the Sea’, while on ‘Don’t Blow It’ is a bizarre-sounding instrument that is not so much dreamlike as it is akin to a caricature of a nightmare. On ‘Make It Easy, Under the Sea‘, the interest generated by the electronic beeping sounds at the song’s opening evaporates by the chorus, as little else happens at the beginning besides the main vocals and something else which is either another vocal part or a synthesizer of some sort.

However, despite all its faults the record is not terrible either. There are some interesting elements on the collection. The use of atmospheric synthesizers and effects, in addition to bright keys or percussion (either xylophone or glockenspiel) and the excellent-sounding bass work on ‘Take an Arrow, Under the Sea’, make possible the best of them in conjunction with the great pop craftsmanship that has makes their music so good. There are other positives which display ambitious weirdness, such as the cluster-bomb-like explosion of drums on ‘Overreacting, Under the Sea’ and the different time signatures on ‘Slow Down, Under the Sea’. Another plus is the presence of great vocal harmonies that have tended to underscore the band’s catalogue – even if not all the backing singing here are as good as their greatest – and the eerie whistle on ‘Dumb Luck, Under the Sea’ which, despite its high pitch, adds a dark colouring to the song.

Therefore, considering all things, the album is certainly not a complete failure and, if it was less samey, would arguably stand up fairly well on its own, generally speaking. That said, the best song on TV en Français, Sous La Mer, ‘Take an Arrow, Under the Sea’, is only about as good as the worst track on TV en Français, ‘What You Do Best’. That speaks volumes about both the quality of the 2014 album and the comparative lack thereof in this release. Still, one eagerly awaits the next We Are Scientists project.

TV en Français, Sous La Mer is available as a Record Store Day 2015 exclusive release.

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