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I learned the hard way: Eating handfuls of M&M’s while listening to The Bird & The Bee’s sophomore album, “Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future,” is not advisable. Lounge-pop duo Inara George (the bird) and Greg Kurstin (the bee) have created an album that is so candied and danceable, between the real sugar and the ear sugar and all the bopping about, you might feel a bit nauseous.
But don’t take it from me: Decide for yourself. Follow the directions to determine if this album will make you happy or just make you sick.
The 44-second “Fanfare” serves as a brief introduction to the album; as it fades out, a catchy, clapped beat signals the beginning of the first proper song, “My Love.” In this tune, George weaves her ethereal vocals around spunky handclaps, singing playfully, “Hey boy, won’t you take me out tonight?” Kurstin’s instrumentation makes the song glitter, but the handclaps glue it together. This participatory spirit is echoed throughout the album: on “Love Letter to Japan,” a Harajuku-girls-esque chorus backs George’s voice, while a strong toe-tapping beat adds to the retro girl-group vibe. In case the beat wasn’t encouragement enough, in “Polite Dance Song” George trills a request: “Would you please clap your hands?”
Clap along: GO TO PAGE 11
Cross your arms sourly: GO TO PAGE 9
“I beg of you to get up and dance/it’s such a crazy kickass beat,” coos George in “Polite Dance Song.” She doesn’t have to ask twice: The hip-hop-inspired hooks laced throughout the whole album make George and Kurstin’s sweet pop songs eminently danceable. Even “Meteor,” a dreamier tune, recounts the story of a meteor asking George to dance. Maybe they can get down together to the syncopated snare beats of “What’s In the Middle.”
Get up and dance: GO TO PAGE 7
Remain seated, look bored: GO TO PAGE 5
If you aren’t clapping along to the songs, you can’t miss the band’s most distinctive instrument: George’s incredible voice. Much like cotton candy wrapped around a double-fudge brownie, the delicate soprano notes George favors belie the warmth of her vocals and the expanse of her range. Slower songs like “Ray Gun” allow her to flaunt her pipes, but even on faster songs like “My Love,” Geroge’s voice adds a sugary sheen.
Eat that cotton-candy-covered brownie up: GO TO PAGE 5
Brush your teeth: GO TO PAGE 10
The ’60s psychedelic pop influence on The Bird & The Bee is clear, but George and Kurstin’s approach is very 21st-century — using a laptop to incorporate digitized retro beats. The sparkly sheen of this production is like rolling George’s already sweet voice in sprinkles. Rainbow sprinkles. Oftentimes, it’s delicious and works perfectly; other times, such as in “Meteor,” it is saccharine and distracting.
Plug in your iPod headphones: YOU WILL ENJOY THIS ALBUM
Mutter, “Kids these days!” while firing up the Victrola: GO TO PAGE 5
Although “Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future” is, for the most part, almost nauseatingly giddy, under their glittery surface George’s lyrics often contain a bitter melancholy. In the song “Ray Gun,” for example, George laments, “I’m caught under the weight of all my life/I want a pretty little life.” This beautiful sadness often comes across as creepy: the final track, “Lifespan of a Fly,” loops a fragile music box tune behind Inara’s whispered vocals, to eerie effect. But even the more upbeat songs hide lyrical gloom. The peppy “What’s In The Middle” finds George crooning, “I want an empty head/I want to go to bed for a long, long time.”
Praise this album in your LiveJournal: YOU WILL HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THIS ALBUM
Complain about this album on your blog: GO TO PAGE 10
Okay, fine. Go listen to that Bruce Springsteen reissue. You probably won’t like this album anyway.