Sunday, July 20, 2008

Album Review: Black Kids - Partie Traumatic (4.5/5)

Been wondering where all this summer's best pop melodies, hooks, and energy have gone? Look no further than Partie Traumatic, the debut album from Jacksonville, Florida band Black Kids. They remind me of the Killers--great songs led by a smug lead singer and crafted with an obvious '80s synth-pop influence--but more upbeat. Most of Partie Traumatic is the kind of music that makes you want to move, no ballads in the mix.

Lively "Hit the Heartbreaks" starts the set, drenched in synthesizers and personality. Similarly upbeat "Partie Traumatic" follows, upping the guitar and piano quotient. "Listen to Your Body Tonight" nods to the Flaming Lips but retains the fast pace established by the first two tracks.

Like several recently launched bands (such as The Ting Tings), Black Kids has male and female vocalists, which works well (mostly lead Reggie Youngblood, with both of the band's female members, Dawn Watley and Reggie's sister Ali, as backup and occasional co-leads). Lyrically, they range from playing double-entendres like "heartbreaks" to the gender-bending cleverness of "Hurricane Jane" or "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You," the latter giving us "You are the girl that I've been dreaming of ever since I was a little girl" (delivered by Reggie).

"Hurricane Jane" slows the tempo a bit, providing the album its most downbeat moment--a tale of loneliness--but not delivered too seriously. The album's best line starts the chorus: "It's Friday night, and I ain't got nobody, so what's the use in making the bed?" This, along with the next track, "I'm Making Eyes at You," are my favorites. "I'm Making Eyes at You" is also a bit slower than the opening party-baiting salvo. Even so, the sweet synths that form the song's melody and punched up by "Mickey"-esque drum moves. It's warm keyboard melodies harken to the early '80s the most of any of these songs.

"I've Underestimated My Charm (Again)" has a more prominent stomp to it. It's good, but gets lost between the last two great songs and the one that follows. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You" isn't perhaps the year's catchiest title for a single, but it's one of the most clever. As silly as they may seem, the band is musically quite good, effectively layering multiple synth effects over guitar and keyboard riffs while the girls sing "dance! dance! dance!"

Thankfully, the album holds up its charms to the very end. "Love Me Already" and "Look at Me (When I Rock Wichoo)" are good, but my favorite of the three closing tracks is "I Wanna Be Your Limousine," which exudes the most personality through its synth-pop swagger.

I appreciate that Partie Traumatic is a lean 10-track set with not a bad song in the bunch. This is joyful, upbeat modern pop music, perfectly timed for summer. Let's also take a moment to acknowledge Bernard Butler, who between this album and Duffy's Rockferry, has produced the year's two best debut albums.

Best: I'm Making Eyes at You, Hurricane Jane, I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You, Hit the Heartbreaks, Partie Traumatic, I Wanna Be Your Limousine

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