You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have the new extended play by newly Brooklyn-based band Lake Street Dive. The Fun Machine EP is a collection of five covers and one original song, and there’s a great deal to enjoy here and, yes, even have fun with as the group trolls through ‘60s r&b and soul standards, ‘70s AM gold chestnuts, and one ‘80s pop nugget. Clearly, the group is having an astonishingly good time rolling through some fan favourites with their take on George Michael’s “Faith”, Wings’ “Let Me Roll It”, and Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl”. And the thing to really note is that there’s a newfound clarity to the group’s sound—while Lake Street Dive haven’t exactly suffered from poor production values, there’s a certain cleanliness that comes across here through Mike Olson’s bell-like sounding trumpet, Bridget Kearney’s thunka-thwacka stand-up bass playing and Rachael Price’s searing vocals. I don’t think Lake Street Dive have sounded better than how they sound here. Clearly, any success that this up-and-coming group of note has had has been plowed back into their recording budget.
But, of course, you do have the bad, and it comes in the following form: three of the five covers that appear on the Fun Machine EP first took a bow on last year’s digital download Live at the Lizard Lounge, which is still available from the band’s Web site, and there’s not exactly a gulf of variation from the versions that appeared on the live digital LP and those that are presented here. So Lake Street Dive is guilty of a bit of recycling, and making fans shell out again for some similar-sounding material. That makes the Fun Machine EP a bit of a letdown, as half the songs aren’t exactly something new. Still, even though much of the song choices are well known to followers, Fun Machine is a bit of a decent bon-bon for fans as it is exciting to hear the group growing and maturing with their sound, and, even if you’ve heard some of this before elsewhere, the quartet does a stellar job of making something familiar sound fresh and invigorating: particularly their take on “Faith”, considering that’s one of those songs in their original incarnation that I would be perfectly happy to go through life never hearing again, so overplayed it is. As it stands, while die-hard fans might be slightly discontent to hear Lake Street Dive plow through stuff that is already a well-worn staple of their live set, it is also a good document for those new to the band to get a sense of where they’ve been and where they might be going. The Fun Machine EP is, in short, a simply agreeable way to spend some time with the band until they figure out which direction they will strike out next in providing more upstanding, killer material. Original material next time, one would hope.