Cooler Kids: Punk Debutante

Cooler Kids
Punk Debutante

No matter what music publicists and lazy record reviewers say, catchiness in pop composition is qualitatively neutral. It's a mistake, for example, to praise "Penny Lane" simply for its easy-to-remember hooks unless you're prepared to do the same for "Meet Me at DQ." I suspect that both will be swimming around my brain forever, but the periodic breaches of the former come with a reminder of its melodic éclat, whereas the latter surfaces like an inopportune bratwurst belch, nags like a post-Blizzard gut ache. Punk Debutante, the coming out of dance-pop historians Cooler Kids, isn't gunning for mnemonic permanence, but it frantically endeavors to keep its familiar-sounding hooks top of mind until at least mid-August. The resulting catchiness is likely to yield a commensurate amount of pleasure and resentment.

Produced by studio duo Pop Rox with help from former Luscious Jackson member Jill Cunniff and beatmeister Kaz Gamble, Debutante is full of aloof sensualist bubblegum indebted to Madonna and her legion coevals and imitators. 21-year-old frontwoman Sisely Treasure sings like Kylie Minogue at her most kittenish or Janet Jackson in her airy upper register. But if the dance-pop of two decades ago was typically produced with a lean digital asperity, Cooler Kids favor spendthrift multi-tracking, analog warmth (dig how the synth sound of Prince's "Delirious" is smartly appropriated on the otherwise useless "Life After Sex"), and thick bass lines along the lines of Daft Punk.

The group's '80s atavism is, of course, conveniently trendy. Its influences, at least, have a wider reach than most of its nostalgia-mongering peers. The tightly packed "Bali Hideaway" borrows from Tom Browne's funk-jazz hit "Thighs High," "The Last Summer" has a Depeche Mode-like minor-key moodiness, and "Hook Up" conjures the icy tunefulness of Crystal Waters. Those are among the album's mix-tape-ready highlights. Elsewhere, though, the marshmallow refrains and threadbare optimism of lines such as "The DJ will save the day" and "This will be the freshest year" begin to grate. "Sha La La (Wake Up Next 2 U)," for example, unwisely conscripts Minnie Ripperton's "Lovin' You" for its canned Chipmunk-like chorus, while other tunes seem like lesser efforts from the Paula Abdul corpus. "Remember That Song," the album's sickliest offering in every respect, is most troublesome because its title is so prophetic. After six or seven listens, I find myself remembering it often. I want it to go away.

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