Boomkatalog.one is that rarest of recordings that makes pop fans’ hearts beat a little faster: a deft combination of musical styles, both current and past, that, when integrated with powerful hooks and strong execution, adds up to an irresistible album. Brother and sister team Kellin and Taryn Manning have a real knack for writing songs that eschew easy formulas and display a real individual streak even while charming the hell out of anyone within earshot.
Kellin is the crafter of the album’s amalgam of hip-hop and electronic beats that are joined with samples and musical styles that show influences as wide as the Beatles, Tribe Called Quest, Motown, and power pop. Taryn is the voice, an erstwhile actress who has appeared in the films Crazy/Beautiful (with Kirsten Dunst), Crossroads (with Britney Spears), White Oleander (with Michele Pfeiffer), and Eminem’s debut 8 Mile. Her voice is strong, a mix of catty pop princess and sultry soul diva, and that’s good because she’s front and center for almost all of Boomkatalog.one. Taryn auditioned for the WB’s Popstars program, but was dismissed after singing just one note. She formed Boomkat (originally just “KAT” for “Kellin and Taryn”) and the duo lined up a live show at L.A.‘s The Mint. Shortly after that the duo hit the radar screen of DreamWorks Record exec Robbie Robertson, former singer with the Band, and he signed the band. Together with Austrian-born Pro Tools wiz Martin Pradler, who also worked on the 8 Mile soundtrack, Kellin and Taryn have produced a frothy pop concoction that actually manages to display personality and style.
The album begins with “Yo!verture”, a track that Taryn describes as something of a theme song, and right away you know you’re not listening to a clone band. Winding a variety of melodic elements into the song, Taryn and Kellin give shout outs to their mother, who raised the kids after her divorce, and their deceased father, who played keyboards and drums in a variety of D.C.-based bands while managing hotels by day. That leads directly into the first single, “The Wreckoning”, a vengeful breakup song that displays Taryn’s R&B-style vocal abilities. At times she exaggerates the vocal styling she is affecting, but that only serves to distinguish her from the likes of Britney and Christina. She’s got a wicked sense of humor, too. “I got cat class / And I got cat style / I keep my claws sharp with my Boomkat nail file” she raps in the hilarious romp “Now Understand This”, a song that also utilizes the chords from the middle section (“Sitting in an English garden / Waiting for the sun”) of “I Am The Walrus”. Elsewhere she tells us that “I used to be crazy in love with someone crazy as me / ‘Course we broke up so then I wrote ‘The Wreckoning’”. You’ve gotta give these guys props for being self-confident enough to be self-referential on their debut album. And it works!
Taryn and Kellin really distinguish themselves on the ballads, managing to write pretty, catchy numbers with lyrics that, while sometimes slightly awkward, are better than a lot of what today’s ‘professional’ songwriters are turning out. “Wastin’ My Time”, which Taryn says is the first song she and Kellin wrote together, is remarkably mature, recalling some of the better ballads of the ‘80s. Eminen liked the song well enough to include it on the 8 Mile soundtrack, and it benefits from the addition of some gorgeous cello work. “B4 It’s 2 L8” gets a little too comfortable in its Fender Rhodes-lined surroundings, but builds very nicely over the last repetitions of the chorus, which has a soaring, aching melody accented with some pentatonic Japanese koto figures. “Daydreamin’” is almost impossibly ethereal, as Taryn reminisces about the childhood she and Kellin shared. “Daydreamin’ is a way to visit the past / Those spaces in time that we hoped would always last” goes the chorus, and the song is tinged with a sense of introspection and melancholy that only the death of someone close can impart to youth’s sense of indestructibility. Songs like these, that could have become hopelessly saccharine in the wrong hands, bode very well for Boomkat’s future.
But ultimately, Boomkat is a pop band, and that means getting down and shaking it. “CrazyLove”, a catalog of the duo’s favorite things, is so infectious it demands almost constant replay. Taryn tells us that she’s in love with “Rainy days / Grande vanilla lattes / And being Taryn age 22” while Kellin tells us how he loves “Makin’ hip-hop beats” and “The Beatles and the Stones.” But even on the ultimate party song, the duo pulls out a lyrical beauty: “You can lend it, spend it, give it away / You know, it all comes back to you one day / And by the look on your face / I can see a trace of what appears to be a space / In your heart”. “Bein’ Bad” talks about partying, drinking, clubbing, and sex, but Boomkat reminds everyone not to drive drunk (take a cab) or have unprotected sex (use a condom). “What You Do to Me” is a wonderful electronica-pop romp, recalling club dance hits by the likes of Janet Jackson and Cher. Troy Horne, a soulful singer/songwriter from Houston, duets with Taryn on this one, and it sounds like a sure hit to me. Nothing too serious, just some really nice vibes and a sound that screams, “summertime dancefloor hit!!”
The album concludes with the exhortations of “Left Side/Right Side”, a kind of companion piece to “Yo!overture” (which featured a callout to folks on the left side and the right side). “All you people on the left side / You are the same as the right side / Come together to become great”, sings Taryn, her voice catching on just the right notes. If I had a teenage kid, I’d rather they emulated (and listened to) Boomkat than the plethora of Disney-cloned, porn star emulating acts currently clogging the top ten. Taryn Manning doesn’t portray herself as innocent or an angel, nor does she wallow in the gutter like some Vivid Video vixen. Boomkat doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the current crop of pop acts, but theirs is a notoriously difficult space to occupy. With the songwriting talent and performing savvy that Taryn and Kellin display on their debut, though, I think they’ll land on their feet whatever becomes of the Boomkat revolution. At least, that will be the case if there’s any justice at all in this world.
// Notes from the Road
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