Hailing from Caen, France, Concrete Knives are four guys and a girl who make gloriously upbeat and off the wall pop rock, guaranteed to warm the soul and thaw out even the coldest winter feet for dancing.
The cover photo of Be Your Own King features a photo of an arty type, standing in an empty field wearing a thermal blanket, gazing at the brutalist architecture of high rise flat blocks. Is it a metaphor for their background in northern France in a city famous for conflict and all too remote from cosmopolitan Paris? Or an indication of their sound – energetic and vibrant compared to the drab surroundings? Either way, it’s an interesting contrast and introduction to a band that bristle with an infectious rhythm and collective spirit that could make even the most drab high rise seem exciting.
Evidence of their love of place comes on opening track Bornholmer, a homage to the famous crossing from between East and West Berlin which was the first to be breached when the wall came down. Eighties synth plays over urgent guitar and some brisk drumming as the lyrics explain the urge to escape: ‘some things get out, some things get out we don’t know how’. It builds up into a crescendo of boy/girl harmonies, reminiscent of a more refined B52s, that immediately invite you to sing along.
Brand New Start takes things into a new direction – the male and female lead vocals both taking control over more funky guitars at the outset as the track builds, in the same guise as the Arcade Fire if they quit the pretense But when the Canadians would take things on a more cinematic and grand direction Concrete Knives take a track and make it sound like the best house party gig you’ve never been to. It’s a little chaotic, vocals; turn to shouts and guitars wander off on their own away from the drums, but most importantly of all it sounds like a whole load of fun.
Likewise, Africanize is Concrete Knives at eccentric best. A million miles away from the upbeat indie sound so far on Be Your Own King, it ends up sounding like they have swapped the flat block for the Souk, guitars taking a more laid back approach. It’s far less catchy than other tracks on the album, but retains the same irresistible groove.
The same can be said for Greyhound Racing, brimming with exuberance and ‘na na na’s’ – it’s a good example of how Concrete Knives want to make music to move to as well as being interesting in an arty way. It sounds different to the more elaborate tracks on Be Your Own King, but has the same effect.
The album ends with the only two, slow (ish) songs on Be Your Own King. Truth is probably the sound of the after party, when things get a bit messy and the giddy excitement of the night before starts to wear off and your new friends don’t seem so familiar. “Why don’t you tell me the truth?” goes the borderline paranoid refrain and suddenly the joyous, dancing Concrete Knives are getting a bit serious.
The other, Blessed fit the same category. Is there anything more to describe that inner despair than “I’ve got a broken heart/come get another one/everything is gone”? It’s poignant in a way that Concrete Knives rarely are, their downright happiness usually filters that out. Melancholy almost suits them, but you can’t help but pine for the album to end on a jumbled up instrumental or shouty sing-along so it goes out with a bang.
Be Your Own King, is above all things, a fun record. It’s exuberant, lively in most parts and features a whole raft of musical styles with the underpinning of an urgent need to keep a rhythm going. Maybe it’s a reaction to Concrete Knives’ background, maybe it’s just because they like a good time. Either way, it’s a good time for the listener and a good antidote for shaking off any winter blues.