Kimya Dawson and Jeffrey Lewis deliver a sugar-sweet collection.
Jude Rogers 2010-04-07
Ten years ago, Kimya Dawson and Jeffrey Lewis, two scruffy New Yorkers who slunk out of the city’s punky anti-folk scene, were signed to Rough Trade in the UK. Dawson was half of The Moldy Peaches, a band that dressed as Robin Hood and a bunny rabbit on tour, while Lewis was a comic-drawing, croaky oddball. Both became known for cute songs with ironic titles like Downloading Porn with Davo and Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song, and spent the next decade ploughing the same arch-eyebrowed furrow. Only now, the Oscar-winning film Juno has made The Moldy Peaches mildly famous, with their song, Anything Else But You, used in the film’s finale. Just the right time, then, for Dawson to form an anti-folk supergroup with Lewis and songwriter, Karl Blau, and pour into the world’s ears a veritable torrent of twee.
Bolstered by the band numbers, and Blau’s deeper, warmer voice, these songs sound meatier than the members’ previous efforts. Still, it is wise to remember there are no bloody steaks in Bundles World, only ham sandwiches cut into heart shapes. Pirates Declare War and Metal Mouth are driven by crashing cymbals and skinny-limbed loucheness, but they remain sardonic songs about toys and the perils of kissing while wearing braces. The Olympia Choir’s church camp backing vocals undercut the propulsive punk rhythms of Ishalicious, while Desert Bundles’ punky three-part harmonies are offset with a silly, twangy washboard. Only Shamrock Glamrock escapes the constant whiff of irony, full of strange electronics and oodles of surrealism, which show how Lewis, at his best, resembles the Mark E. Smith of Manhattan. “Alchemists join to turn Led Zeppelin into gold… open sores! Open sores!” he raves, taking delight in language for once, rather than knowingness.
But elsewhere, the prevailing mood is sugar-sweet, with A Common Chorus telling us not to “forget about your friends”, and Dawson telling us in Over the Moon that her craft is about “the means of creating a meaningful existence”. Although this statement sounds very much from the heart, and many of these songs make you smile while other make you sour, it’s a shame that this album’s playfulness very often comes across as pretentiousness.