Maxïmo Park

A Certain Trigger

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While Maxïmo Park might be relative latecomers to the post-punk/new wave revival, their debut album, A Certain Trigger, stakes out their own distinctive territory within that sound. Sonically speaking, the Newcastle band's mix of wiry guitars, sharply punctuated rhythms, and atmospheric keyboards is nothing new, even when compared to their fellow revivalists. What makes Maxïmo Park, and A Certain Trigger, special is the way the band captures the joys and frustrations of being young and cooped up in a small town -- they're bittersweet, angry, thoughtful, and funny, often within the course of the same song. Singer/lyricist Paul Smith's witty, occasionally poignant observations, coupled with his strong (and endearing) Geordie accent, add to the band's earnest, angry-young-man appeal. Indeed, Maxïmo Park are so good at writing anthems for love-lorn underdogs that they almost feel more akin, spiritually at least, to Pulp than to some of their contemporaries. Similarly, some of Smith's more quotable lyrics, such as "Postcard of a Painting"'s "I wrote my feelings down in a rush/I didn't even check the spelling," recall those other Smiths, and the song's jaunty melancholy is more than a little reminiscent of "This Charming Man." Several of A Certain Trigger's best songs were already released as singles, but when the songs are this good, it's hard to complain that they sound familiar. "Apply Some Pressure" is just as addictive and smart within the album's context as it was on its own; as it begins with spiky guitars and turns itself inside out with a synth-driven middle section, Smith hopes to get caught stealing and wonders if he'll even be alive next year, but boils it down to what's most important by the end of the song ("I hope that I will live to see you undress"). The boldly romantic "Graffiti" is very nearly as good, while "The Coast Is Changing" is sweet and soaring -- even the slightly cringe-inducing couplet "I am young and I am lost/You react to my riposte" underscores its heartfelt, if somewhat awkward, exuberance. Most of A Certain Trigger's album tracks sound like singles waiting to be discovered -- like their friends the Futureheads, a big part of Maxïmo Park's appeal is hearing them pack so many musical and lyrical ideas into songs that rarely pass the three-and-a-half-minute mark, like the wonderfully agile "Now I'm All Over the Shop" and "Kiss You Better." On the other hand, "Acrobat," a bittersweet, largely spoken word ballad propelled by chilly drum machines and synths, is a standout because it's so expansive and languid. Now that some of the novelty of Warp signing a post-punk-inspired band has worn off, it's easier to hear why they did: A Certain Trigger is a remarkably fresh-sounding debut album, with more than enough personality to transcend its retro leanings.

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