Review: Worser - Duplex

Worser_low.jpgThere's this ice cream shop in San Francisco called Humphry Slocombe. I've never been there, but I'm definitely intrigued. “There’s a whole world beyond chocolate, strawberry, vanilla," the owner says. "Why can’t you make peanut butter–curry ice cream?” Indeed, take a look at the flavor list -- OK, they do have chocolate and vanilla, but foie gras? Pistachio-bacon? Strawberry.... candied jalapeno? But even if the flavors sound odd, they seem to be doing excellent business... Duplex is not for people who, to coin a phrase, are looking for vanilla kids music. It's for the families who'd like to try salt and pepper ice cream. The band is the brainchild of Vancouver musician Veda Hille, who amidst her many other musical projects put together the delightfully askew album Ablum (review) in 2005 with a crew of kids and adults. Four years later, Hille and her gang are back with Worser, which is, well, quite possibly odder than its predecessor. I don't want to suggest that Duplex makes deliberately obscure and unlistenable music. Because at its heart these are mostly pop songs that are, in fact, quite listenable. "That's How We Make a Sandwich" features horns, sha-la-las, and sings about, well, the various ways people make sandwiches. "Orange Popsicle" (listen here is a sweet cut of Beach Boys-esque pop about friendship. But much of the album sounds like nothing else you will hear in the kids music genre this year. Worser features not one, but two, science-related songs (take that!, They Might Be Giants) -- the over-the-top rocker "Noble Gases" (about, yes, the seven noble gases) and the gorgeous "Alive," about evolution (listen here). Heck, throw in "September Is My Favourite" and the British-Invasion-aping "Hibernation," and that's four science-related songs. There's also an ode to laziness (or possibly subtle criticism) in the zippy "That Sounds Like Work To Me." And the opening track "Salvador" features one of my favorite lines in kids music for a long time -- "Some people come to the party early / Some people never show up at all / Some stay late and they help clean up the dishes / Salvador stayed all night long" -- I could spend days unpacking all the meaning in those lines. Not all of it works, of course. Songs about divorce are rare in kids music and songs about divorce between couples who just happen to be the same sex are rarer still. While I appreciate the sentiment in the heartfelt "Daddy and I," the song doesn't have quite the verve of most of the rest of the tracks. And "Dog With A Sweater On" moves from funny to odd to annoying to very annoying to so bad it's good to something approaching head-shaking amazement. The 30-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 4 through 9. For the moment it's available here. You can listen to additional tracks at the band's Myspace page. (The physical copy is silk-screened by band member Annie Wilkinson and is lovely to boot.) Since it doesn't sound like a lot of kids music, Worser probably isn't for everyone. But just like there are enough people who like pistachio-bacon ice cream, there are enough people who like their kids music a bit off-kilter. And even those folks like me who for whom the more chocolate associated with their ice cream, the better, want to try really good salt and pepper ice cream every once in a while. Definitely recommended.

Listen To This: "Alive!" - Duplex

When I was picking out a track for your listening pleasure from the upcoming Duplex album Worser, I was tempted to pick one of the more rockin' tracks. Heck, I even uploaded one of 'em. (And if you need to listen to one of the more rockin' tracks, I have it on good authority that Bill may have one on this weekend's show.) But it was this track, "Alive!," that I kept thinking about. It's a lot more swirling than most kids tracks. It's also beautiful. Streaming with permission from Veda Hille, it's... Duplex - "Alive!"

New Duplex Album (Yes, Album) Worser On Its Way...

For months -- years, even -- I've been checking the website of Veda Hille, the mastermind behind Duplex, who a few years back released the delightfully odd and incredibly tuneful Ablum (yes, that's how you spell it -- read the review here). Every time, no new news except for the occasional one-off Duplex live show. And then Bill notices an entry -- a month old at that -- that says Duplex will be releasing their new album next month. That's right, Worser will be released May 7th June (updated info). Bad news/good news -- bad news (for me) that I missed the announcement of a new Duplex album. Good news: The announcement of a new Duplex album.

This Week: All Over The Board

If I have no theme for the week other than "no theme," does that mean I have no theme? While I'm pondering that conundrum, do check out my reviews of disks from Duplex and Captain Bogg & Salty if you missed 'em. (And, yes, there will be plenty more this week.) And thanks as always to everyone who reads, comments, and e-mails. Keep 'em all coming!

Review: Ablum! - Duplex

Presented with a band that includes 3-, 11-, and 12-year-old kids as members, plus an album cover that makes it look very much like the 3-year-old was the artistic director for the album, Ablum (2005), by the Vancouver-based Duplex!, had a couple strikes going against it according to my general bias against kids in bands and bad album cover art. Thank goodness I have no idea what I'm talking about there, because this is a very good album. Consisting of adult members from assorted north-of-the-border bands (The Beekeepers, p:ano, and more) plus a few of their kids, Duplex! is very much a side-project supergroup. And while my temptation is compare them with labelmates and Western Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers ('cuz I'll do anything to work in a reference to them), the more appropriate comparison is the Eastern Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene. While the New Pornographers work up their tunes into a polished if frenzied power pop sheen, Broken Social Scene plays things loose, sometimes sounding ragged around the edges. It's the general ragged charm of the album, plus the willingness of the group to throw just about everything against the wall and see what sticks, that is its strength. From the Grateful Dead-noodlings of the album opener "Yr Mama" to the Cake stylings of "Heatin' Up the Milk," there are few musical stylings that it doesn't cover. Euro-cabaret of 8 1/2 Souvenirs? Try "Mr. Slim or "Bethlehem." Sleater-Kinney? Try "Nucat." Ska? "DNA." The album is not without a strong sense of humor, amusing both youngsters and hipsters. For kids, the album's particular enjoyment in rhymes is particularly noticeable in "The Salad Song, " which takes a decidedly anti-green approach ("Spinach, cucumber / I think I'm going under / Cabbage and sprouts / I have a lot of doubts"). Adults will probably appreciate more the cabaret song "Bethlehem" and its less-than-reverent view of the city ("Bethlehem / Where the beds are fluffy and the rocks are hard / where everyday is a holiday card"). For the most part, though, the subjects (including poop, monkeys, and multiplication) are very kid-focused. When you throw everything against the wall, some of it is bound to, uh, slide off. The spoken word "Lament of the House Rabbit" is tedious while "Lookit Me!" is as annoying as your 4-year-old who wants you to look at her every five seconds for what seems like an eternity. But those are exceptions, not the rule. Kids age 3 through 8 (or 38) are most likely going to enjoy this album. You can buy the CD at many online stores (physical and download formats), and find samples there. (There are no samples at the Mint Records page for the band.) If you have any sort of indie-music tendencies, you will find something to amuse and entertain you in Ablum. The giddy fun in making the record comes through loud and clear on the album, and you'll find yourself telling others, "Yeah, the album cover's kinda dorky, but wait 'til you hear it..." Definitely recommended.