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Meet a blitz of Brits

United Kingdom up-and-comers are making a point of trying to stir up the U.S. scene.

June 19, 2005

AH, to be young and in London. Or Leeds, or Leicester....

Ever since the Beatles and their brethren got the U.S. hooked on British rock, Americans have needed their regular fix of those special qualities only U.K. bands can supply -- a play of youthful hope against grim future, a bit of a swagger, and of course a great accent.

There have been some dry spells and broken promises over the past decade, but in the wake of Franz Ferdinand's call to arms, Britain is now shipping bands over in such numbers that it's hard to keep track. So here's a quick guide to eight of the key players, with the U.S. angle from Times staff writer Richard Cromelin and a British perspective provided by London correspondent Phil Sutcliffe. Bands are listed alphabetically and rated on a scale of 1 to 10.

Bloc Party

The view from L.A.: If you haven't noticed, we Americans like to feel important, so we have no problem with being courted aggressively. Of the bands that arrived en masse this year, this London quartet has been the most persistent suitor, and it's been rewarded with radio play and a rapidly growing audience. With Kele Okereke's keening voice bringing a forlorn urgency to the terse images of estrangement and longing, Bloc Party evokes a gray, cold city and bristles with the determination to survive in it. Rating: 8

The view from London: Okereke was born of Nigerian parents in Liverpool, where another decent Brit band came from, but the oblique bleakness of his lyrics may arise from growing up in the denatured outskirts of London -- like the Cure's Robert Smith, whom he vocally resembles. He and guitarist Russell Lissack have been playing together for six years, so they're seasoned, although "Silent Alarm" is their debut album. Allusively poetic lyrics and the sparse, potent sounds from every corner of the quartet have already seen off initial United Kingdom bracketing with Franz Ferdinand, who are their friends and soul mates but not their blueprint. Rating: 8

The Futureheads

L.A.: This kind of multilayered harmony singing might trace back to Southern California's Beach Boys, but there's plenty of Blighty in the effervescent mix of this quartet. Its playfulness and precision suggest Gilbert & Sullivan, and it bites a bit like England's Elvis. Other touchstones include the pop-era Who and the artful constructions of XTC. On their self-titled debut album (produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill), they step into the tradition with a chirpy effervescence and a wry undercurrent of discontent and repressed volatility. (The band plays Tuesday at the Henry Fonda Theatre.) 7.5

London: They were bred and have resolutely remained in their industrially declining northeastern hometown, Sunderland, where they sprang from a community scheme evocatively named the Detached Youth Project. Singer-guitarist Barry Hyde taught there, and his kid brother, drummer Dave, was a pupil. The basic hard punk guitars versus four-part vocals motif is striking. But their best-known track in the U.K., an inspired version of Kate Bush's glorious "Hounds of Love," suggests that their frenetic, angry side may have limited their potential. Oomph, insight and songwriting talent to burn, though. And those accents are definitely cute, even to Anglos. 6

Kaiser Chiefs

L.A.: The songs aren't classics, and the playing can be a little sloppy, but they just love performing for us, and they enjoy each other so much that the bonhomie fairly flies from the stage. That scenario worked for Rod Stewart, Ron Wood and their fellow Faces some 35 years ago, and a similar spirit is the key to this Leeds band's charm. Not that the charisma is anywhere near the Rod and Woody level, but chatterbox singer Ricky Wilson is such a tireless and ebullient ambassador that such slight, catchy tunes as "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" and "Oh My God" start sounding pretty good. 6.5

London: Highly pertinent in this context, soon after forming in 2003 Kaiser Chiefs dumped all their songs because they were writing "too American." "High school proms"? "Homecoming queens"? We don't got 'em. Instead, they drew on the Kinks, Madness and Blur and started writing hangdog anti-romances like "Everyday I Love You Less and Less" ("It makes me sick to think of you undressed"). Leeds is the U.K.'s hottest music town, the original Kaiser (or rather, Kaizer) Chiefs are a South African soccer team, singer Ricky Wilson developed his showmanship in a Rolling Stones tribute band and ... I suspect my American counterpart underrates these chaps as songwriters. 7


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