By Gilbert Garcia
If SXSW handed out awards for such things, this year's "buzz band of the year" would have unquestionably been the Glasgow quartet Franz Ferdinand.
The crescendo of hype around this group strongly recalls the reaction that greeted the Strokes' emergence three years ago, strangely fitting because on first blush this band sounds like nothing so much as a Scottish Strokes.
For one thing, Alex Kapranos' vocals are drenched in the sneering ennui of Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas. He even highlights his emotional detachment with a similar megaphone-like filter on his voice. The group also shares the Strokes' fondness for late '70s, early '80s post-punk, driven by jagged, hyperactive guitar lines and melodic high-end bass.
But, above all else, Franz Ferdinand fancies itself a dance band, and on this self-titled album you'll hear enough disco beats to make you think you're at a 1976 Andrea True Connection gig. One track, "Take Me Out," even segues from a raucous punk opening into a propulsive disco coda, without sounding the least bit contrived.
In the early '80s, when Gang of Four made punk funky, there was an ideological agenda at work. That band thought the most subversive way to facilitate revolution would be on the dance floor. Franz Ferdinand harbors no such political ambitions. The group may have lifted its name from the Austrian archduke whose killing set off World War I, but its passions are decidedly personal.
Kapranos skillfully conveys romantic obsession in all its creepy sexiness, while simultaneously seeming to be above it all. On the infectiously hooky "Tell Her Tonight," he pines: "She only shook her hips, but I saw it/she only licked her lips, but I saw it." Similarly, on "Auf Achse," he sings, "You see her/you can't touch her/you hear her/you can't hold her." Kapranos conquers his loneliness like all great rock misfits - by brooding about it rather than confronting it.