I'll admit it right off the bat -- when it's done well, I'm a total sucker for indiepop. I love limited edition 7", I love homemade album covers, I love special inserts, I love silly, lovey-dovey choruses, I love cutesy, girl/boy vocals. But conversely, indiepop poorly done (as unfortunately it so often is) is a bane of my existence, a nauseating nightmare of insipid lyrics, pat-yourself-on-the-back musical ineptitude, and saccharine gimmicks. Lucky for me and my stomach lining, Kiddo's self-titled album is indiepop done well. Very well.
Kiddo are a three-piece band currently based in the indiepop non-Mecca of Cleveland, Ohio, featuring Christian Doble on guitar and vocals, Liz Wittman on bass and vocals, and Greg Hyland on drums. Doble (the primary songwriter) and Wittman (the second songwriter) have a Frankie and Annette thing happening in the songs on Kiddo. Wittman's got that whiny kind of little girl voice that sounds straight out of a '60s teen movie, while Doble's got a more mellow, crooning one. Their voices mesh together really well, and are a great fit for the band's uptempo raveups.
The 12-track album's simple song titles let you know what you're in for right away: songs about girls, boys, breakups, and makeups. And the song lengths, most hovering around the three-minute mark with a few under two minutes, attest that the tracks are pure pop. It's not rocket science, but it's well executed, both musically and lyrically, and super fun.
Standouts songs include "New Year's Resolution Haircut", "You're Not Who You Said You Were", "The John Song", and "The Makeout Song". We also get a bit of geographic envy. Kiddo may be from Cleveland now, but "Woodward Avenue" attests to a stint in Detroit, including a reference to the city's culinary mainstay, coney islands. "Woodward Avenue" has that nostalgia for a place you've since left down pat (you know, the kind where you find yourself missing certain things, even if you halfway hated them while you were there). The resignation of the last line, "Now we're just two kids from out of town", sends it off perfectly.
While most of the songs on the album are uptempo, there are a few exceptions. "1992" is one of them, with its wistful, drawn-out phrases and twinkly percussive accompaniment. "To the Moon" is another exception, its slow yearning vocals sounding a bit like Ben Folds Five. Both songs are nice counterpoints to the hyperkinetic pace of what surrounds them.
Indiepop sucker though I may be, I wouldn't call everything on Kiddo a gem. One of the keys to good pop music is knowing not to overstay your welcome. Unfortunately, "The Greg Song" does just that, even though I like the guitar on it. Another key to good indiepop is knowing when to stick to what works. Now for the most part, Doble takes the lead vocals and Wittman sings backup or trades off verses on the album, but "Surfin' Thru" is the one song where Wittman takes front stage by herself. It's got a serious Juliana Hatfield/Kay Hanley/girl band in a '00s teen movie vibe to it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but here it's a little much and seems rather forced. Wittman's voice, at least on this album, really seems to be better as contrast, playing off of Doble's, rather than out there on its own.
But Kiddo save the best for last. "Still Not My Girl" sounds like it could be on Happy Days except that the lyrics are delightfully bitter and cruel, such as this gem: "If you were my girl / Then I'd be sorry / If you were my girl / I'd still be lonely / You're such a pill / You make me ill / And you're still not my girl". It reminds me of the "mean" side of one of my favorite indiepop 7" ever, "A Fine Day for Sailing" by Go Sailor (fellow indiepop geeks, you know what I'm talking about). Indiepop done well that recalls indiepop done well. I'm in heaven.