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MUSIC | POP MUSIC REVIEW

Young Knives unleash their nerd rage

March 09, 2007|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

The Young Knives are three guys from the middle of England who look like extras from the cast of "The Office." Onstage Wednesday at L.A.'s Spaceland, Henry Dartnall, the band's guitarist and lead singer, called their home of Oxfordshire "a no-man's land" but encouraged the audience to visit. "We have a park and a tower that people chuck themselves off every day," he sniffed.

On "Voices of Animals and Men," their debut album, Dartnall and his bandmates churn out a brand of terse, choppy neo-post-punk that shares much with recent efforts by stylish hipster faves such as Franz Ferdinand and the Futureheads. But the Knives aren't terribly stylish; they adhere to the angry-nerd tradition pioneered by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and David Byrne of Talking Heads. Even when Dartnall is singing about love or sex, what the group's music really describes is the struggle of the individual chafing against the strictures of conformity.

Though Dartnall admitted they were amid their 24th consecutive hour without sleep, the Knives blazed through their rousing 13-song set with more energy and humor than they muster on "Animals and Men." In "Weekends and Bleak Days (Hot Summer)," a propulsive disco-punk rave-up, Dartnall and his bassist brother Thomas (who calls himself the House of Lords) sang exasperatedly about living for the evening " 'cause it's the best part of the day" -- the part, that is, that offers an escape from one's cubicle.

Henry Dartnall simplified his message in "Part Timer": "I was bored," he howled, sounding anything but in his indictment of a world suffused with small-time disappointment. Thomas Dartnall introduced "In the Pink" by explaining that the song is "about having loads of money and being dead successful," to which Henry Dartnall deadpanned, "You know, like us."

As concerned with efficiency as the middle managers they resemble, the band kept the music tight and fat-free, largely eschewing solos and aimless jammy bits. When they finished, less than an hour after they began, you could imagine the three returning to the grind, temporarily refreshed but as skeptical as ever.

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