Call And Response

Call And Response

Kindercore Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman


It may be showing my age, or at the very least my yuppieness, to admit that I discovered a band on NPR rather than in a club or at a friend's party, but I stand my ground. Call And Response, by virtue of their radio appearance (NPR called their album "ingenious"), has become the fastest selling band in the brief history of Kindercore Records, a label that is striving to bring a little good old-fashioned melody back into rock and roll. The question is, therefore, what is all the hoopla about?

Well, for starters, let's get one thing straight: whether or not you've heard anything like this before, what this band does is nothing new. Like much '90s music, there is a fascination for all things retro, combined with a "sensibility" that updates the rich analog sounds of the past. It can take the form of a vintage synthesizer, a non-distorted guitar, or just a bunch of "ba ba ba"s or "do do do"s. Bands like Stereolab and the High Llamas have been doing this for years. But at the very least, Call And Response come from a good starting point, so they deserve a listen.

The first thing that may strike the listener about this CD as either odd, cool or frustrating, is that when you hear most of these songs, they just sound so familiar. It's as if they've taken their favorite songs from the late '60s and early '70s and played around with the notes just enough so that they're just beyond identifiable. They didn't do a good enough job with this process on "Colors," the melody of which bears more than a passing resemblance to "Mr. Tambourine Man," but the rest of the disc is a scarily accurate rendition of what was going on back then, both musically and lyrically.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The highlights include "I Know You Want Me," which rides a driving, bluesy riff into ecstasy, and almost makes you wish it rocked a little harder. In fact, if you replaced the Farfisa organ with a rhythm guitar and turned the volume up to 11, it wouldn't sound out of place on Led Zeppelin I. "Rollerskate" features some great vocal interplay and a cool, jazzy guitar coda. "Blowin' Bubbles" steals admirably from early '90s "shoegazer" bands like My Bloody Valentine in its simultaneous-male-and-female-singer vibe, but take it one step further (or rather, back) by adding a bass line straight out of "Hang On Sloopy." "Lightbulb" is the most contemporary sounding track, but is still hard to resist, thanks to some funk-style guitar, some early '80s style synthesized clapping, and the sultry "I'm a lightbulb yeah / and I'm on fire" refrain. And "Night Flight" manages to include a cello as the lead instrument at the end without falling flat on its face.

Where Call And Response does fall flat on its face is when they occasionally run out of original ideas. "Colors," by delivering lines like "sitting on the green grass, I know the sky is blue," and "The rainbow has so many colors / there is red and yellow and green / and there's blue" (as if somehow the blue took a little extra time to think of?), fails to distinguish between childlike and childish. Even in the '60s this would have been pretty darned pedestrian. And "California Floating in Space" with its somewhat-psychedelic, country-meets-LSD pedal steel guitar, sounds like it could have been an America outtake. "Bouncing through a beach ball lullaby?" Now really. The title of the song, along with the profound revelation "imaginary place" is repeated ad nauseum. Of course, if this is all just an attempt to make fun of bands like America, it's a pretty funny one, ditto "Colors" for Donovan and the like, but the problem is that they sound serious. The "do do do"s and "ba ba ba"s get pretty excessive at times, too.

But in spite of their relative lack of originality, this is still a pretty good record. If Call And Response can be said to put any sort of new twist on retro-pop, it would be the ability to consolidate this sound into cute little radio-friendly songs; to play rock analogies, Call And Response could end up being related to Stereloab as the Jam is to the Sex Pistols, as Paul Simon is to Bob Dylan, or as Jefferson Airplane is to the Beatles, not the real innovator but still more than worthwhile to pay attention to. If they stick to their own talents and lay off the imitations, they may have a chance. Only time will tell.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Mark Feldman and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Kindercore Records, and is used for informational purposes only.