Orange Hat: Pufferfish


By Bill Holmes

How do you sing so clearly when your tongue is lodged so firmly in cheek? Orange Hat feeds at the trough of Jellyfish in appearance (big goofy hats, granny glasses) as much as style (layered vocals, complex songs). So are they playing along, or putting us on? Hard to tell, as Pufferfish is laced with evidence of both.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I slapped this one in. Kenny Howes is a major power pop hero in his own right, known more for his singing and writing, but the songs and focus come from band front men Christo Harris and Zeus Henderson (nice parents, guys!). They’re certainly capable of a knockout pop hook—“My Mood Ring” and “Can’t Relate” are solid, bouncy pop songs fired by Kenny Howes finger-poking Vox organ and vocals that could pass for Glen Tilbrook in Squeeze’s heyday. “Anne” encapsulates the Candy Butchers, Squeeze and Fountains Of Wayne in one hundred and fifteen seconds—very, very nice. Other references abound—“My Favorite Room” starts with a Beatle riff and a Beach Boys idea, then mixes in a little Elvis Costello punch. Similarly, “Looking At The Robot” borrows liberally from “Green Tambourine” for its backbone. Devo fans will swear by “The Visible Man”.

Howes’ Vox Continental organ sound affords the band the luxury of covering calliope pop (“Second Invitation”), psychedelic Tex-Mex (“Liquid Me”) and even Beach Anthems From Hell (the illustriously titled “Squidhead Farmplow”). However, after a while, a little variety would lift the garage band tunes well, above garage band level. Not that I want an organist to go all Keith Emerson on me or anything.

How much you like this record will depend largely on your degree of patience for silly lyrics and themes along with your potpourri of sonic adventure. While I would imagine that a bong and headphones would lift this record up a notch, there’s a wide band of chances being taken here as the band plays genre dress-up. Definitely some strong material worth repeated visits, alongside others where one spin will suffice.

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