Thursday, October 05, 2006

Early Review:
Love at First Sight

The Bird and the Bee,
The Bird and the Bee, Metro Blue/Blue Note

Some records need time to grow on you, others are instantly appealing. I don't think one kind is superior to the other. The Bird and the Bee, first full-length from LA duo Inara George and Greg Kurstin, falls into the latter category. It's the kind of dreamy retro-pop I just can't resist. It's too soon to say whether this album has staying power, i.e. whether I'll find the 20th spin as enchanting as the first, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, I proclaim it one of the year's most enjoyable debuts.
First, it should be noted that Inara is the daughter of Little Feat's Lowell George. That out of the way, best to move on. I dig the Feat, but Inara's got a brand new bag, so it seems misleading to make too big a deal out of her parentage. I mean, it's worth acknowledging, as George was a major figure, but I don't hear his influence on her music. (Incidentally, the AMG review of Inara's solo effort, All Rise, describes her father as a cult figure. Seems to me the late singer/guitarist was more significant than that.)

So, here are some of the artists I do hear on this disc: Free Design, Deee-lite, Death by Chocolate, and labelmate Keren Ann. George has the kind of airy voice that dances around the melody, never buried by Kurstin's inventive arrangements, but softer than that of your average singer/songwriter, where it's all about the VOICE and the LYRICS. Frankly, I suspect that a few lines were after-thoughts--lots of references to tangerines and such--but I'm not complaining. I own several Stereolab recordings, yet couldn't quote a single lyric. That isn't to suggest that Laetitia Sadier doesn't put any thought into her words--which are mostly sung in French--just that they aren't what I like best about her band.

George sings mostly about relationships, but she isn't above throwing a few la-la-la's and ba-ba-ba's into the mix. In this sense, she reminds me of Juana Molina, but there's more of a poppy 1960s vibe to The Bird and the Bee. I hear a lot of Eno in Molina's atmospheric sounds; I don't hear anything quite so esoteric here. The appeal, then, is mostly about the overall sound, the way George's gentle voice mingles with Kurstin's catchy melodies.

The one exception is "Fucking Boyfriend." I don't have a problem with profanity, and the contrast between George's tranquil tone and her angry words generates an interesting tension, but I prefer the songs about chocolate. The effect is similar to Lily Allen's more risqué material, but Allen pulls off this kind of thing better (interestingly, Kurstin is one of the producers behind Alright, Still, which is also set to be released in the US this January).

Still, I'm glad the song is on here. The Bird and the Bee is, otherwise, almost too nice, too pretty...too good to be true. It's like discovering that the most popular girl in school has a dirty secret--say, her father's an ex-con. It humanizes her, brings her back down to Earth. So it goes with "Fucking Boyfriend." It's a reminder that, for all the good vibes this duo is dishing out, they're still living in the prickly present, rather than a hippie-dippy past.

Inara, did that guy in "Boyfriend"
ever become your boyfriend?
Inara: No. He never became my fucking boyfriend.
Greg: That's why we keep singing it.
Inara: Because if he became my boyfriend,
the song would just fall flat.
Greg: She gets that boyfriend, the band'll just be over.
Inara: Boys like that don't ever become boyfriends.
They die old and alone.
-- Greg Burk, LA Weekly (11/3/06)

Endnote: For more information, please see the band's MySpace Page, where you can listen to "Again and Again," "Fucking Boyfriend," and other tunes. Under Sounds like, they state, "A futuristic 1960's American film set in Brazil..." Bingo! All images from the Official Inara George Website. I'll add pics of Kurstin some other time. At the moment, I can't get anything to stick.

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