IF YOU'RE THE kind of Twin Town indie rocker whose cinderblock bookcase is crammed to busting with CDs of the twee, naively poppy, and/or ambient-disco variety, then you already know about Tahiti 80. If you merely yearn to join those particular ranks, however, then Tahiti 80's debut full-length, Puzzle, may be the perfect musical primer. After all, Puzzle is the latest pastel gift from those patrons of the childlike at Chicago's Minty Fresh Records. The disc was mixed and produced by Tore Johansson (the Cardigans, St. Etienne) and Andy Chase (Ivy), and it features contributions from Cardinal's Eric Matthews and Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger. And the band itself hails from France. Such is the stuff that retro T-shirts and double-latte dreams are made of.
Unfortunately, Tahiti 80 may suffer from a kind of younger-sibling curse: It will be thought of only in comparison to that which came before. "Yellow Butterfly," which has predictably found a heavy rotation home on Radio K, combines Belle and Sebastian-style vocals and ambient action horns. "I.S.A.A.C." skips farther along the Nineties Europop lane, sounding more like the Cardigans' brand of space-age disco than the Cardigans' last record did. Circumstances even grow a little Elephant 6ish with "Made First Never Forget," as Xavier Boyer sweetly chirps about fairies circling above his head.
But the stylistic range of their frothy delights sets Tahiti 80 apart from their fey predecessors. "Heartbeat" could easily be the background music for a photo shoot featuring a Love Boat guest starlet, while "Easy Way Out" evokes images of Robyn Hitchcock fronting a Japanese girl group and covering the Sesame Street theme. Too bad that Tahiti 80 also stands apart from their contemporaries on "Mr. Davies" and "Hey Joe"; these tributes (to band idols Ray Davies of the Kinks and Joe Dolan of the Drifters) are perhaps the two lamest semi-celebrity ass-kisses since "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives."
True to their moniker (lifted from a souvenir T-shirt once worn by Boyer pere) Tahiti 80 makes retro beach music, the perfect fluff to thread between your ears as the summer sun threatens to set into another fall semester. The gently danceable synthesizer and smooth delivery are careful not to break subgenre, so that each song gives off a pleasurable sense of familiarity, even upon first listen. But then, if you're that kind of Twin Town indie rocker, you probably already know that.
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