Like their ancestors from the first wave of punk rock, present-day trailblazers such as the Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs favor the visceral over the intellectual. They temper their razor-blade rhythms and rabid vocal fits with intentionally simplistic arrangements, lending a sense of immediacy that complexity would only muddle. It was just a matter of time before this burgeoning punk sound generated an artier rebuttal to its unspoken code of strict simplicity.
The Watchers play the Talking Heads to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Ramones. On their debut album, "To the Rooftops," the Chicago quintet presents a sophisticated blend of punk-funk rhythms, synthesized strings and crunchy guitar slices, but avoids the obvious pitfall of overintellectualizing their music.
On "Two Worlds," jagged guitar collides with a thumping bass, as vocalist Michael Guarrine channels the irony of David Byrne; bongo shots fire off below the groove, lending a worldly funk to the attack. Elsewhere, the Watchers mine the depths of soul ("The Dirty Sponsor"), infuse dub-styled bass lines ("Strays"), and play straight funk ("My Cube") -- all with their punk core intact.
"To the Rooftops" is out now on Gern Blandsten.