Myles Broscoe and Brendan Reed, this prog-punk outfit's founders, are ex-members of a little band called the Arcade Fire; they parted ways with Win and the gang after recording their debut EP. Apparently their off-the-wall visual aesthetics and fondness for screeching, keyboard-bejeweled grindcore weren't given their due and proper, so Broscoe and Reed bailed in search of more simpatico collaborators. Since then, of course, the Arcade Fire have blossomed into one of the biggest indie success stories of the past decade, so the duo's decision to defect may have been just a bit premature, but you probably won't catch either man crying into his absinthe over it.
Recorded at famed recording studio/squat house Hotel2Tango, What's Real? sounds like nothing so much as Italian prog-rockers Goblin playing ZZ Top's Fandango at twice its original speed, but tuned down three octaves. It takes a hell of a lot of moxie to even attempt carnivalesque blasts of synthcore like "What's a Real Summer" and "A Very Fraid", let alone adorn them with flammable melodies and a hint of restraint. However, that's where restraint stops and the drugs take control; the album's second half sounds like crackheads dancing atop electric pianos, listening to the theme from Legend of Zelda in their headphones while screaming "themmm lucifers ain't gon get meeee tonighhttt" at the top of their lungs. The band almost get back on their feet with "Ninja Gaiden"'s slashing guitars, fizzly pop squiggles and browbeaten rhythm, but then they slip up near the second bridge and wind up face down in a heaping pile of dung. Even then, you can't help but admire them as they scrape up the courage to wheedle their way through closer "Struggling to Survive", an army of junked synths behind them.
It's not pretty, it's definitely not sane, and at some instances it isn't even music, but for all of its glaring faults and horrendous musical missteps, What's Real? never surrenders its grating individuality for fear of artistic or commercial suicide. That's not something you can say about the Arcade Fire, is it?