I’m hard pressed to find a justification for this EP re-issue of the shock tart pop outfit from Portland, Oregon, All Girl Summer Fun Band. Whereas some band’s back catalogue’s shed light on the evolution of their sound or perhaps help us rediscover a treasure unfairly lost in the perpetual band flood, this re-issue only serves to undermine AGSFB’s current efforts.
I love indie pop, though I frequently waver on just how cute I like it to be. The paint bucket production of this EP brings a glaring light onto the weaknesses of this musical style. Whereas AGSFB songs like “Later Operator” have given me several moments of sucker in mouth fun, the tracks on this EP dissolve my teeth with vocals so cutesy that they actually sound like women infantalizing themselves rather than just women with fey, sweet, broken harmonies. Garage twee? With the production more bedroom four track than their other two full lengths, the bad car stereo sing along range painfully tears through note after note, the sonic equivalent of missing every other stair. It’s so hard to stomach at times that I have to restrain my inner Simon Cowell, using instead my wincing, phoney-smiled inner Paula Abdul. She has little to say here.
Summer of '98 EP
US: 17 Jun 2003
UK: Available as import
The album’s cover art portrays the band members as cartoons, in varying forms of hipster catholic reformatory school girl dress, barrettes strategically placed for maximum junior highing. “Charm Bracelet” actually sounds like it’s made by 12-year-olds, with vocals distorted by what could be a Jem karaoke machine, and lyrics that celebrate the joys of, you guessed it, charm bracelets. “Grass Skirt” is about a grass skirt, which makes their songwriting style somewhere along the lines of riding in a cart pointing at stuff and then building a few lyrics around the mantra of the object. They’ve since thankfully surpassed this creative dearth, but it is sorely over-represented on this outing. Passed around in Algebra, these songs might carry some cache of cool that escapes me, but here they just create this awkward moment of childishness that I don’t know what to do with. I feel like Martin Bashir with Michael Jackson trying to get me to climb a tree during his documentary interview. The fact is that while these sound like children’s songs, they aren’t for children or even celebrating spontaneous flashes of freedom that we seek out as adults to preserve the positive aspects of our child minds. These songs are just a bunch of adult women sounding like children. Make of that what you will.
It’s very possible that I should just take this for what it is and dislike it outright without uncharitable speculations or further diminishments that aren’t necessary to giving you an idea of what the record is like. After all, they obviously want to make this sort of sugary, coy, dimples and lip gloss pop music and they certainly make no claims or pretensions to be doing otherwise. Still, even on their own terms I can’t help but believe they look back and shudder at their first forays into making the album equivalent of Fun Dip. It’s understandable to want to reclaim the simple pleasures of being younger, where kissing boys and collecting stickers seemed like the sum total of existence, but as an aesthetic choice taken too far, it treads treacherously close to novelty band territory. All Girl Summer Fun Band have done a lot better than this, matured their sound, and written quite a few happy little nugs that don’t cave in your cheekbones from saccharine excess. I would definitely recommend checking out their most recent albums and resisting the urge, assuming that you have it, to be a completist.
// Notes from the Road
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