I don’t know if you guys out there remember Pianosaurus. If you don’t, they were this novelty group who played all their songs on toy instruments. Their tunes were quite catchy and eventually the band wound up as musical guest on Nickelodeon programs and even had a cameo in the movie New York Stories as well as a slot on its soundtrack (“Back To School”). There’s something about Ames, Iowa’s Pookey Bleum that reminds of Pianosaurus, though I’m not quite sure what.
It might be the light-heartedness the band exudes when performing their songs, or it may be Aaron Hefley’s vocals that are making be draw the comparison. The band’s name is certainly just as odd. And although these guys make for a pretty good time for the most part, there’s something overall about their sound that just doesn’t win me over completely. I wish this wasn’t the case, as the songs I do like on Pookey’s new CD Lo-Fi Rainbow I like quite a lot.
The band is a four-piece, with Hefley and Patrick Fleming on guitar, Melissa Sorbo on bass and vocals, and Jeremy Johnson on drums. The Pookey Bleum sound is one of those quirky types of pop rock, the kind that would probably fall under the “geek rock” label. The band’s press release says they’ve been compared to everyone from Fountains of Wayne to the Rentals and Weezer. I can certainly hear the Fountains of Wayne influence every now and then, but the other two comparisons are a bit of a stretch. There’s something a bit too adenoidal about Pookey Bleum that not even Rivers Cuomo or Matt Sharp could begin to touch.
As I said, there’s a couple things I like on Lo-Fi Rainbow, and the rest hits me in smaller waves of excitement. The two leadoff tracks, “Lo-Fi Rainbow” and “Everyone Loves Delaware (Going To Wilmington)” are the best songs on the album. On the title track, guest musician Natalie Uhl adds some excellent backing la-la-las that form the great hook of the song, while Hefley waxes both collegiate and funky throughout the tune. At the bridges, the band slows down a bit to offer up their version of a rap-like groove and it works quite well, even if it is a bit cheeky. “Everyone Loves Delaware” is the kind of thing you might expect They Might Be Giants to do, although in Pookey Bleum’s hands, the song is probably a lot less cerebral. However, this is the song that reminds me a lot of Pianosaurus so I’d like it no matter what. Also worth note is “Tasty” which sports a great melody line that gets lodged in your head the first time around.
After that though, things just either get a little too cute or try too hard to rock out. “Kids Have Had Enough” propels itself along on a ‘70s kind of groove, but the “yeah yeah” choruses are annoying, no thanks in part to Sorbo’s higher vocal range that when mixed with Hefley’s voice, somes across as atonal caterwauling. On the flipside of that mess, there’s the stale cute factor running through “February 2nd”, which is all about Groundhog Day in case you forgot (which is forgivable; as soon as the lyrics about the groundhogs kicked in, I just rolled my eyes and moved along).
From there, Pookey Bleum just dashes whatever creative qualities they may have had to bits in their feeble attempts to rock harder or play the roles of jacked-up smart-asses. In “Let Me Introduce Myself”, the band attempts to push the crunch factor a bit too much and the song falls on its face. Guys, you can’t rock so just do the pop thing as it works much more to your favor. The stinkiest tune here though has to be “Rules” in which Hefley and Sorbo sing “What can I do that hasn’t been done? / Take this song to number one! / Who can I pay, or give lots of head? / Make sure this song doesn’t end up dead!” Call me crazy, but that kind of unnecessary stab at potty-mouthed humor just lowers the enjoyment quotient for me even more. I appreciate a stupid dirty joke as much as the next guy, but stuff like this is just plain tacky.
I suppose my biggest complaint about Pookey Bleum and Lo-Fi Rainbow is that Hefley and Sorbo’s vocals just don’t go well together. This is not a good thing when the two of them sing with each other on most of the tracks. Sorbo’s voice is a bit too high, and well, Hefley just isn’t the best vocalist. But when combined with someone who can sing better than he, it sounds even worse. That’s a shame, because Pookey Bleum apparently has a large following that really likes their sound. But to me, they could work on it just a bit, letting go of the harder rock-type tunes and maybe working a bit more on those vocals. Until that happens, Pookey Bleum seems to be a decent novelty band with three good songs on Lo-Fi Rainbow and not much else.