A for Effortless 

Wednesday, Mar 15 2000

Right now is a good time for average joes. The Internet makes irrelevant all guides that once guarded the gates of culture; magazines like Maxim and Details fulfill lowest-common-denominator desires; in academia, whiteness studies is an emerging discipline; and musicians, especially in the rock realm, have shrugged off the albatross of artistic integrity with, well, a shrug. Bands like Filter, Savage Garden and Sugar Ray present an interchangeable array of listless hooks, beats that might have come factory-programmed and sentiments as shallow as a junior high crush. It‘s hip-pop for the post-BritneyBackstreet set, and beyond the fact that Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath is what many ladies (and boys) might call a nice catch, these groups make Journey and Loverboy seem iconoclastic. Up until now the best of the bunch has been Smash Mouth, who -- while wearing plainness like a medal -- at least attempt to rise above aggressive mediocrity with a few nods to classic ‘60s pop. It is with this somewhat tepid buildup that I present you with Bristol, England’s Day One, the new kings of average. a

A duo of Phelim Byrne and Donni Hardwidge, Day One assume their crowns with an uncharacteristic Big Statement. They open their debut -- Ordinary Man, of course -- with “Waiting for a Break,” a slacker anthem that deserves a place alongside the work of Beck and Pavement in the way it captures Gen X‘s characteristic crankiness, in this case our less than compelling, near ubiquitous ennui. It’s not an ennui we embrace because we think the world is doomed or that life lacks vitality, but because -- oh no -- pop-cultural adulation may elude us. The track, which skips along on a chorus of “demdoot d-den-d-dpt [pause] doot” -- simpler and catchier than you‘d expect -- ought to be the theme song for the world’s urbane would-be‘s, could-be’s and shoulda-beens. “He said he was a workerthat suffered from inertiaA real soul searcherthat had no religion,” sings Byrne, whose limited range is made up for by his gift for catchy speak-sing melodies. Tracking the immobility of an indecisive and idle actor-artist-writer (i.e., collects unemployment), Byrne continues, “It‘s a matter of timebefore I get mineYou could call it fateI’m just waiting for my break.”

Where most of Day One‘s competition wallow in the quotidian, targeting audiences they obviously resent, Day One celebrates the failings of this striving class, telling stories that are trite yet poignant, sarcastic and ironic. A vein of self-critique shot through the band’s view of things leavens their commentary: Sure, we‘re all losers, Byrne posits, but hey, it won’t kill us. On songs less painfully revealing than “Waiting for a Break” -- one guesses that Byrne and Hardwidge only recently got theirs -- our narrators score their summer babes: “Love on the Dole” and “Bedroom Dancing” unfold like Irvine Welsh stories, only set in Bristol and with less potent drugs. Beyond those tracks, “Walk Now Talk Now” and “I‘m Doing Fine” are as enthralling as any song about the day-to-day affairs of the poor and innocuous gets. The flip side of “Waiting for a Break,” “Trying Too Hard” details the effect of success and its lack upon the love life of a burgeoning lower-class talent.

Related Stories

  • "Once" the Musical

    The difficulty of bringing an intimate musical to Hollywood’s supersized Pantages Theatre manifests itself even before Once starts. The gimmick is that audience members can go onstage, buy beer and wine, and hang out until the performers enter for a charming preshow concert. That may have been easier to manage...
  • Hard Summer: Best and Worst 8

    This past weekend was the latest incarnation of Gary Richards' Hard Summer, held in new venue Whittier Narrows Recreation Area this year, while L.A. State Historic Park undergoes renovation.  The festival is as popular as ever; a bunch of people snuck in on Saturday, and on Sunday security was ramped up considerably. Getting there was...
  • Petit Trois Opens

    Petit Trois, the long-awaited space next door to Trois Mec, will open tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Owned and operated by the Trois Mec team — Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo — Petit Trois aims to offer  Bar a la Carte, described as the traditional French bar experience.  "I...
  • The Pancake Breakfast Is Coming!

    It's August in Los Angeles. Time to listen to Vin Scully on the radio (here's that Time Warner petition), dream of rain, and get tickets to our Pancake Breakfast. Plan your weekend events and juice fasts accordingly. If you haven't seen the (pink!) artwork on your neighborhood's LA Weekly newspaper box, here's a...
  • Why Brendan Gleeson's One of the Best Actors Alive

    In Calvary, Brendan Gleeson plays a Catholic priest who plods through a rustic Irish village that's more brutal than beautiful. The beach is gray, the waves are choppy, and the wind whips his ankle-length black cassock as though every step were a fight against nature. In some ways, it is...

Perhaps it’s that this duo grew up on the wrong side of the class divide in England, a country where class is central to existence, but the group have an obvious affection for their characters‘ foibles. It places them not just head and shoulders above the new field of domestic-issue ho-hum rockers, but in a longer lineage of British acts -- the Kinks, Blur, Pulp -- who have related lessons learned from the wrong side of the tracks. Where those bands’ music often contrasted typical stories with epic rock, Day One‘s slouches along like the handiwork of two residents of a small island nation whose GNP has recently been outpaced by that of Ireland.

Programmer Hardwidge’s music consists of modest soundscapes that seem effortlessly constructed, as if he stumbled into each one of his hooks. Studied effortlessness takes talent, however, and the combination of looped guitars and keys and simple breakbeats is delivered by way of classic Byrdsian pop structures and a noirish trip-hop feel accomplished by supplements of lullaby-sweet jazz sounds (an occasional sax or organ or whatever cross-faded into a hazy blur).

Ordinary Man is a wonderful surprise. It‘s the kind of record that slinks into the room and demands your attention not on the basis of pretentious attitude but on the strength of effect; it’s through this trick of expectation judo that this perfectly modest record is, by all rights, not so ordinary after all.

Reach the writer at alecbemis@brassland.org

Related Content

Now Trending

  • The Black Castle’s Mysterious Proprietor

    The worst part about running a metal venue out of your home is the mess. The proprietor of South Central club the Black Castle regularly puts on shows for hundreds of raging metalheads. He also lives in the facilities, which are housed in a former custom-car shop. Additionally, he’s a...
  • The Best Concerts to See in L.A. This Week

    Be sure to check out our constantly updated concert calendar! Monday, August 18 Smoke Season ECHOPLEX Gabrielle Wortman is best known as the voice of the electronic combo TEMP3ST, but when she’s paired with Honor Society keyboardist Jason Rosen in side project Smoke Season, she reveals newfound elements of folk...
  • Check Out This Biggie Smalls Butane Torch

    In the past few years, a lot of serious potheads have switched from smoking marijuana to vaping concentrates like wax, which require the kind of heat that only can come from a butane torch. Unlike regular lighters, butane torches are fairly large and awkward. So a company called Errlybird is...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets