Music

The Boy Least Likely To: The Best Party Ever

I'd challenge the sourest cynic to sit through the album's 12 songs without breaking into a smile.


The Boy Least Likely To

The Best Party Ever

Label: Too Young to Die
US Release Date: 2006-05-02
UK Release Date: 2005-02-21
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

The cover of The Best Party Ever shows these things, drawn with simple cartoon-lines and bold colours: a rabbit with one ear, a ghost, a devil, a monster, a boy with a balloon, a white furball, a bear with a crown and a guitar, a white bird, a dog on top of a speaker, a martian, five frogs, a flower, a panda, and a few other shapes it is impossible to give an accurate description of. It is the kind of art we used to draw before we learned about perspective and a certain anatomy, and it is a perfect evocation of the kindergarten innocence that Jof Owen and Pete Hobbs take as the foundation for an exploration of confusion, mortality, and other universal concerns of existential youth.

In a sense, the drawings and the elaborately sweet music are an attempt at divining wisdom through that childlike innocence. You'll notice the duo's songs are compact, and move from subjects of great emotional weight to incidental observations with an agile step. The combination of breezy melodies, smooth production, classic songwriting, and a fragile, tenor vocal will immediately recall Belle & Sebastian, whose influence is certainly felt pervasively throughout the album. There's the sunny California soul of the Beach Boys going on, too, though perhaps tinged with a particularly English sense of restraint. And a few of the tracks echo the Shins, which together just means -- The Boy Least Likely To owe a great deal to the Beatles. But this familiar sound is packaged in such a unique and appealing way that I'd challenge the sourest cynic to sit through the album's 12 songs without breaking into a smile.

The Best Party Ever opens with the sounds of tinny glockenspiel, a sunny major scale -- up and down. A banjo or toy guitar enters, mirroring the melody with a carefully-constructed, precious air. Owen's wistful tenor is at first all innocence: looking at the night sky, the persona of the song wishes he'd "sparkle for a moment". But as the texture is filled in, building to the chorus, the lyrics take a more alarming twist, revealing deep insecurities with the same childlike straightforwardness as the first verse: "I'm happy because I'm stupid... If I wasn't so happy I wouldn't be so scared of dying". The honesty with which intensely personal revelations and whimsical, childlike observations are intertwined is at the heart of the song's (and the album's) appeal: catching the listener off-guard, these small-scale creations craft real, adult feeling out of simple elements.

And it's true: TBLLT's music and its lyrics make at times startling bedfellows. Whereas the tinkling, intricate music is the definition of joy, Owen's words are full of casually-observed melancholy poetry ("I look tough enough / But if you hold me up to the light you can see my broken heart"), or casually-observed existential tragedy ("I used to read before I went to sleep / But now I just pass out watching TV"). With repeat listens, the words come to hold more significance than the breezy melodies -- and that's not taking away from the skill of the songwriting, but an additional compliment to these insightful/wry/witty/evocative bundles of observation and feeling.

"Monsters", a cool synth-jam in which Owen imagines all the residents of his town as monsters, has all the everyday activities becoming a grotesque ritual (has such a simple act as picking corn out of your teeth ever seemed so frightening?); but to him by far the most terrifying thing -- that they all tell him he'd be happier if he was more like them. "Paper Cuts" has a wavy synth squiggle and an airy, precarious chorus in which a broken heart is wryly compared to an inconsequential paper cut. "Sleeping With a Gun Under My Pillow" embellishes a twangy country guitar with bird-chirps and a drawn-out, chorus that sounds like "The Longest Time". And my favourite track on the whole album, "Hugging My Grudge", is sure to become an On-The-Go playlist standard: "I have weapons / And battle plans / But in my heart I know / I can't ever protect you / From things that I don't understand".

Like a child, Owen is amazed and wondrous and scared of everything: spiders, insects, flying. If you're feeling unkind, you might say 'Get over it'; but if you’d say that, this music's not going to appeal to you. In that case, you can tell your friends that "I See Spiders When I Close My Eyes" is what Monty Python makes fun of when they sing "I'm So Worried".

My only real criticism of the disc is this: Owens is constantly a hair flat (tuning-wise). Though there are obvious claims of purpose behind this -- a communication of imperfection -- it bugs me a little; it's like the one thing that, the more you listen, interrupts total transcendence.

The first time you listen to The Best Party Ever, you'll likely be left with a transient, breezy happiness; listen closer, and a complex array of emotions presents itself. Musically, The Best Party Ever is a perfect springtime record; it ebbs and swells, but seems in a constant state of celebration of new life. Unified by this musical optimism and a child's wonder and innocence, The Best Party Ever could become, as it has for many already, a treasured companion for your life’s dips and dizzying highs.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image