New York’s Kleenex Girl Wonder (known as Kleenex Ex-Girl Wonder in Japan) is essentially the work of Graham Smith, who has been recording under the moniker for almost 20 years with a rotating cast of hangers on. There’s a record in the Kleenex Girl Wonder catalogue that is a testament to how much of a presence Smith has in the band, let alone how big his ego is: Graham Smith Is the Coolest Person Alive. Yeah. So, anyway, Kleenex Girl Wonder has been puttering along for some time, but Let It Buffer, the band’s new album, is said to be the first rehearsed in a practice space and recorded in a professional studio. And the band is certainly trying to get some rep among the hipster indie rock critics out there: current drummer Matt LeMay writes for Pitchfork. So, this is Kleenex Girl Wonder’s attempt to graduate from the basement into something more. If only this album had that intangible something more.
While I can appreciate the layers of pop culture references here – there’s a passing shout out to Xiu Xiu on one of the songs; another which name-checks Matt Sweeney of the great Chavez; another which references a Van Morrison song in passing; and another that name-drops Tom Cruise, Tom Lehrer and Tom Green almost in the same breath – they come so fast and furious that it’s a blink and you’ll miss it proposition. And the songs, alas, aren’t much to write home about: they sound like castoffs from the last Jeff the Brotherhood album, which was flawed but at least fun. Let It Buffer is flawed, but it really isn’t fun. And the reason for that is, let’s be frank, Smith has a voice that sounds like a cross between Black Francis on acid and “Weird Al” Yankovic. That quality makes this record very tough to listen to. Overall, though, there so much stuff – pop culture zingers and ferocious riffs – that it’s like a lot is being thrown at the listener. But little of it really sticks. Believe me, I tried to get into this record, and listened to it a time or two more than my usual three spins before passing judgement, but can only sum up that this disc isn’t passable. I hate to say it, but Kleenex Girl Wonder might have been a better proposition if it stayed in the basement. At least there, the sound could be honed a bit more and perhaps not be as hyperactive. So, yeah, say what you will, but Graham Smith isn’t the coolest person in the world. And, based on Let It Buffer, he’s got a long way to go before he is.