This album was originally released in 2008, but was re-released in 2009 with two new tracks tacked on, the delightful “Le Flying Saucer Hat” and “Dixie Gypsy”. The Brooklyn, NYC-based (by way of Boulder, CO) band has gained acclaim and a following for its indie-pop that marries off-beat lyrics, 80s-style instrumentation and song structures, and the languid to crestfallen to pert vocals from Caroline Polachek. The band line up is filled out by Aaron Pfenning (vocals / electronics / guitars) and Patrick Wimberly (drums / bass guitar / keyboard).
The sonic pastiche of certain songs can be unwieldy and perplexing, with unsubtle shifts in musical styles or tones, an erratic rhythmic pace, and flat aural space. What sounds right though is Caroline’s mutable vocals that run the gamut from the eccentric, exclamatory delivery and word-twisting of Karen O to the soft drift of a subdued Polly Jean Harvey or Chan Marshall on the more serious numbers.
The lyrics tackle commonplace or odd objects or topics, like garbage, health, pencils, and earwigs (ewww!), but also make room for the universal themes of love and heartache. The band even turns charmingly U.K. twee on “Bruises”, channeling Camera Obscura with light reverb guitar, chiming notes, attenuated synths, and alternating vocal lines from a sweetly winsome to delicately melancholic Caroline and Aaron. Caroline coos like a placid Karen O as she murmurs “I tried to do handstands for you… / I’m permanently black and blue / for you.”
The insouciant, Karen O-like inflection (minus Karen O’s sharp darkness) is even more pronounced on the upbeat pop of “Evident Utensil”, as a mild Caroline is nicely balanced by Aaron sing-talking in a suavely deadpan tone. Several songs, however, lack pep or an 80s New Wave bounce and instead are slow and soporific, like closer “Ceiling Wax” (with downer lyrics “My time has come / My day is done.”) and the gossamer “Someone Around Here” with its hushed dual vocals. “Territory” gets positively depressive with a dark instrumental background of spacey synths and guitar lines and despondently pained vocals from Caroline.
Other musical styles on display are the relaxed island-beat start of “Make Your Mind Up”, which gets its rock on for the chorus, and the alt-country lament “Don’t Give a Damn” with slow-picked acoustic guitar strum, slide guitar notes, and brushed drums that give the song a Patsy Cline-like throwback feel, except for the wavering, watery vocals of Caroline and Aaron as they sing “I’ve waited for you all the while / I’ve been locked up and broke down / I’ll saddle up soon and be gone.”
“Planet Health” is a quirky keeper that drifts along on an 80s vibe of starry twinkle, xylophone-like notes, muffled gong shimmer, and sedated vocals. The highlight of the album is the added track “Le Flying Saucer Hat”, which sounds like a lost synth-based treasure dug up from the New Wave-era 80s complete with “Der Kommissar”-like motif and Caroline sing-talking with jaunty indifference in both English and French about a universal eclipse that can be viewed from a chateau on Pluto.