“Snow White in the Train”, the sixth cut from Kissogram’s second LP Nothing, Sir!, holds most of the secrets to this excellent album’s addictive charm. It is wonderfully free of pretension, as grasped by its willingness to revel in Piper at the Gates of Dawn-type playfulness. At one point, lead vocalist Jonas Poppe confesses, “And till I see you again/ I’ll solve crossword puzzles in the train.” The danceability quotient is plentiful and unapologetic and, most importantly, its aural delight does not simply filter through tired electro thumps and conventional sonic details. Of all the stylistic borrowings, Nothing, Sir! brandishes a taste for Bollywood flights of sound most prominently. On “Snow White”, the opening notes of Eastern sheen first pose as little tickles and then expand into a sparkling speed chase. It’s a conceptual and musical knockout and, yet, is only one of many treats on this wonderfully varied electro-pop grab-bag.
All the immediate appeal of this German duo’s (the other member being Sebastian Dassé) terrific 2005 debut, The Seceret Life of Captain Ferber stays active on its follow-up—the new-wave, technicolor energy, the occasionally dark rhythms, and self-deprecation with a straight face. Nothing, Sir! is just more shamelessly tuneful. The lead jaunt “Car Crash Bop” is a Doors and psych-pop collision that doubles as a simple exhortation to dance (“Do the car crash bop”). With such a spastic up-and-down flow, the vocal encouragement almost seems redundant. But what keep these infectious candies from descending into mere fluff are the many dips and stylistic left turns that Kissogram wisely includes. Nothing, Sir! feels most right when it sonically switches on a dime and goes against the expected course.
Kissogram’s ratcheting up of the Bollywood flavor stands as the central aesthetic difference with their debut. The results prove among the best. “I Am the Night Before” takes the hiccupping bounce of “Toxic” (the source of Britney Spears’ most convincing claim to credibility) and drenches it in Eastern-minded swirls. Uppity, kinetic, and refreshingly off-kilter, “Night” demands a dancey response. Effects of the same ilk lightly texturize the gypsy spaciness of “Come Spring Come Reason” and, on “In the Wilderness”, hold up the backbone of its chorus. This marriage of Eastern and Western influences that Kissogram consistently commits to is one of their various strong suits on Nothing, Sir!”
It also typifies their aversion to genre exercises. Even when the Bollywood is dropped, Kissogram doesn’t immediately settle into pat techno fodder. “Manager in Love” comes nearest to a genre piece, but try not to be swept up in its speedy Depeche Mode vibe and Ratatat-like guitar zaps. If anything, Nothing, Sir! is so deliciously scattered that it boasts the feel of a wizard collection of singles. On “Shuffle Along”, the German duo sound like LCD and the White Stripes battling for center stage, an electronica chug accounting for the former and garage-blues riffing for the latter. Dirty guitar licks crop up again and with equal panache on the quiet-loud-quiet “Buzzard King”. Poppe even incorporates a very distinct Jack White wiggle to his “I shuffle along” refrain and the exclamation, “Believe me I’m the buzzard king”. His vocals typically smack of a Berlin-born Alex Kapranos, supplemented by expected Bowie flourishes. But on the hazy waltz of “I’m the Morning After”, a further genre bender, he nails all the sexual indifference of a lounge singer: “I’m the shame and disgrace/ I’m the unpleasant feeling/ That something went wrong.” It’s all so addictively varied, with upfront rockers colliding into brisk techno tripping over fantastical ditties.
This last slice of Kissogram’s repertoire—their penchant for whimsical ballads and odes—drives what sentimental pull Nothing, Sir! may have. It’s intentionally minimal though undeniable on entries like the space-country fiddler “She’s an Apple Pie”. The lilting beat and saccharine lyrics (“She’s topped with cream/ For my delight”) warmly smack of early Flaming Lips. On the closer “Ricky’s Little World”, Poppe delivers his finest vocal performance—sturdy, straightforward, and edging towards baritone—but the song, as a whole, doesn’t try to shake the semi-dark, fairy-tale flair that its lyrics emanate.
Kissogram easily could’ve chosen other, less oddball, musical avenues for Nothing, Sir and likely would’ve arrived at fetching, even if simple, pleasures. That they opted not to and still attained something nearer to pop bliss is the real measure of their greatness.