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Death By Chocolate

Death By Chocolate

(Jetset; US: 23 Jan 2001)

Death By Chocolate’s debut, self-titled CD opens with a woman’s voice, that of teenage lead singer Angela Faye Tillett, stating a color and then a series of things she associates with it: “Mustard yellow / marinas and Volvos / waistcoats and snug nylon polo necks…deadly gas and the sound of cardboard tearing.” Five of these 30-second bits run as a thread through the CD, linking the tracks while furthering the basic theme of the disc: observing and list-making.


The second track has Tillett listing numbers and the objects she associates with them, in a sing-song way, to lightly psychedelic, organ-dominated music (a lowbrow comparison: The music, here and throughout, sounds like the quick segues in the Austin Powers films, the ones where 1960s fashionplates do goofy little dances). It also sounds like the stylistic, pretty pop of the Songs for the Jet Set compilations, the most recent of which Death By Chocolate contributed two songs to.


A later song, “A B & C”, has Tillett defining words, one for each letter of the alphabet. In general, Death By Chocolate is all about outlining the world around us, from the silly to the serious. They take fun, fanciful pop music backdrops and put the world on top of it, via glimpses, lists and word associations.


On “The Land of Chocolate”, Tillett delivers an all-over-the-place poem about chocolate, with descriptions, recipes and stream-of-consciousness litanies, like this: “Kit Kats, um, crunch / instant satisfaction / familiar and all expectations fulfilled / nostalgia in chocolate.” On “The Salvador Dali Murder Mystery”, there’s two overlapping vocal tracks, with stories and passages waiting to be deciphered. Those two tracks deliver the essence of Death by Chocolate. They project both the aura of a child’s innocent view of life and that of a sly, walking mystery enticing you to determine what all of this is about.


Death By Chocolate dive even further into surrealism and pop culture through three fun and unusual covers: Dudley Moore’s “The LS Bumble Bee”, Sally Field’s “Who Needs Wings to Fly?” from The Singing Nun, and one of my all-time-favorite songs, Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out Sing Out”, from Harold and Maude. That last song fits as more than just a pop culture allusion. Harold and Maude brilliantly commented on life, how we look at it and what we do with it, and that song was a perfect encapsulation of the movie’s theme. By touching on everything from Pope Gregory I to ice cold lemonade, Death By Chocolate are similarly describing the world around us in a way that highlights its myriad dimensions and the freedom that comes with that fact.


A delightfully silly and cute work of music, Death By Chocolate’s CD is simultaneously inspiring and important. It’s easy to tell listeners what to think; it’s more rewarding when artists show us the world through their eyes. Death By Chocolate has done the latter, and done so in a way that wakes you up, both to the joys of pop music and, as cheesy as it might sound, to the joys of life.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine ErasingClouds.com, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


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