A Jillion Kicks
If I could give Heypenny one piece of advice, it would be this: if you’re going to borrow from Kevin Barnes, you better be ready to give it your all, and do so at all times. For a record that ably and frequently displays how talented and high-energy this Nashville, TN outfit is, A Jillion Kicks actually comes across as a bit too straight-forward and formulaic a take on the style of indie rock championed by of Montreal. Coming across as a smart-aleck kid brother to Skeletal Lamping and False Priest, this thirteen-song record leaps about with and exults in the sort of gleeful white man’s soul-funk that Barnes has championed for his past three albums.
Yet, for all of the superb power-pop goodness that floods this music, the band still feels a bit too dependent upon quirky aesthetic developed by Elephant 6. Though they’re played with an impressive proficiency, we’ve already heard these arrangements and production traits. The excellent syncopation in the peppy, dancey drums sets the stage for the other participants. Guitars slink and slide about, servings as flourishes and melodies, while the bass provides the chord movements. The various synths and organs frolic about the mix, while the breathy female background vocals serve as a foil to the lead singer’s tenor (that occasionally turns into a falsetto bleat).
I’m really impressed with what I hear on tracks like “Parade,” “Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Cop Car,” and “Give Me The Ball.” These cuts display a hungry, eager band that possesses an innate capacity for knowing when and how to tweak the flow and instrumentation to keep things fresh. Yet, there are offerings like “You Shine,” “Ticket,” “Pretty Day,” and “Angles And Arches” which present the album as a study in diminishing returns. The songs aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they’re not really that original or interesting, thus diminishing the impact of the really good songs.
Ultimately, I’m torn here in the sort of verdict I should deliver, because it’s obvious Heypenny is filled with very accomplished musicians and arrangers. A Jillion Kicks is the record that MGMT could have created, if only they’d been following the lead of Apples In Stereo or Wolf Parade, and not trying to re-invent themselves as Brian Eno wannabes. This music is fun, up-tempo, high-energy, and ready for a night out on the town with its friends; unfortunately, it’s also a bit too carbon copy at times. By focusing too much on hitting the exact notes and vocal tones of Barnes with the appropriate skill and acumen (which is never a bad thing in any situation), the group forgets to pay the necessary attention to the offbeat style and flair that gives of Montreal (and that band’s influences in Prince and David Bowie) that not-so-subtle edge and mystery.