Casiokids Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar

[Polyvinyl; 2010]

Styles: synth pop, electro-pop
Others: Jens Lekman, Y.A.C.H.T., LCD Soundsystem, The Go! Team

Everybody likes to root for the underdog, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Scandinavia’s own Casiokids are making a conscious effort to play the part. With the online streams of music distro clogged and dammed to overflow by the oft-mentioned but actually-unfathomable glut of new music, it seems a bit brave/foolish for a band to swim headlong down a tributary as densely populated as synth pop is in 2010. It’s even more the case for a band to do so not as a duo-plus-volunteer beat machine (à la colleagues like Y.A.C.H.T. and jj), but to split the meager makings among five or six real, hungry musician-bodies (ones with audibly expensive keyboard habits, to boot). And to do so strictly in Norwegian finds these children of the synth practically trying to run aground along the fringe, shriveling ’neath the sun like an old bayed whale. I don’t think I could even pronounce that album title, if it weren’t for me being a half-Dane.

But it’s not like the Casiokid crew particularly need your sympathies. Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar isn’t the most assured or refined debut you’ll hear this year, but it’s an admirable start for ambitious youths, and these ones do get a lot of things right. Generally speaking, the eight tracks/38 minutes of the album proper consist of groove-heavy, synth-poppin’ workouts that could have well been produced by James Murphy (though they ain’t), and make for topp stemning (a “great vibe”) in the gym, the car, and maybe even the local bar, as advertised on the tin. The squiggly instro-funk of “Fot I Hose” sounds like an update of the kind of 70s jams cataloged on Cinemaphonic’s Soul Punch comp; “Verdens Største Land” ably blends Air France’s lithe synths with Vampiric afro-beat appropriations; and the opener “Grønt Lys I Alle Led” approximates the result of Jens Lekman ghostwriting a tune for Los Campesinos! post-Ritalin prescription. The ’Kids can wring some really cool sounds outta them Casios; they clearly know their way around their live instruments; and Kendil Kinden Endresen’s falsetto fluency and airy theatrics make it clear why of Montreal were keen enough on the band to recommend them to their label.

Still, there are some definite missteps here. At times the band gets lost in their own forest of gadgets — the keys-as-cicada-swarm texture in “Gomurmamma” is certainly unique, but I’m not sure if I’d ever wanna hear it again. And the issue of soundfonts and self-restraint also clutters otherwise fine tunes like “Togens Hule” and “En Ville Hest,” while the glittery, uncoalescent disco of “Finn Bikkjen!” simply fails to justify its exclamation point or its five-minute runtime.

Perhaps worst of all is the fact that this disc doubles its length in bonus tracks; they’re easy to ignore, which makes it a forgivable move, but as such it also feels like a bit of a waste. At best it comes off a bit brazen and cocksure (who wants nearly 40 minutes of bonus material from a new band, or most any other?), and at worst it seems compensatory, as though the band/label aren’t quite sure the record can stand on its own. In any event, none of the many remixes here are the blog fodder they’re likely trying to be. Quite stupidly, there are three different takes on “Verdens Største Land” and another 3 on “Fot I Hose,” all split among four remixers — at least diversify! Likewise, the band’s own “translation” of James Yuill’s “Left-Handed Girl” (here “Hun er Min Venstre Hånd”) is a pleasant listen, but I was disappointed to discover that it’s not an actual cover but rather Endresen simply singing Norwegian over Yuill’s unaltered instrumental.

Speaking of the ever-present Norsk, I find that Casiokids’ devotion to their native tongue charms rather than distracts. Refusing to make concessions to the Esperanto of pop is an admirable thing (ever wonder where Phoenix would be at if they kept it French?), though admittedly I’m left a little stymied in one instance: Album highlight “Min Siste Dag” is a lovely cut of starlit nu-soul, enhanced by flashes of Wilsonian counterpoint, Spoon’s knack for well-placed percussive quips, and a melody that’ll leave you ruing the linguistic obstruction of singalong opportunity.

But on the flip, those notes would be a bitch to hit for most anyone, anyway. Playing air-synth and adding an extra track of handclaps might just have to do.

Links: Casiokids - Polyvinyl

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