By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
Cardiac Party singer Ryan McDowell had it all planned: By including a pack of Skittles with a copy of his band's new EP, Teen Challenge, he says, he was assured of getting at least one positive remark in my review: "The songs sucked, but the Skittles were delicious!" Actually, Teen Challenge is one of the better local records I've heard since I started this job — even without the Skittles.
This brilliant follow-up to their 2007 album, Cardiac Party R Cacti Yard, PA, is a huge step forward. If I were Cardiac Party, I'd pull the first album off shelves immediately.
Opening with a violin, bells, Metal Machine Music-style guitar scratches and a joyous bass line, Cardiac Party make their point quickly in "Sha-La." Lyrics like "Abdullah, he won't die / but he'll bleat and bray and cry / because they've done detained his mind," reinforce the worldly, orchestral message. But, by the time the radiant refrain hits, it's clear they're not using the full breadth of a local music store's offerings just to appeared sophisticated, as so many Phoenix-area bands seem to. Instead, C.P. makes a genuine effort to create the sort of layered Day-Glo sounds The Polyphonic Spree brought forward a few years back.
The second track, "Savvy Shoppers," wouldn't sound out of place on a Clouds Taste Metallic-era Flaming Lips record. The simple mantra "Savvy shoppers getting their own parking lot, sunny parking lot, funny parking lot" is repeated for 4:44 as drummer Cavan Noone beats a solid foundation for the layers of loosely tuned guitar, ambitious vocal harmonies, and twittering keys. It builds throughout, finally dissolving when a lone trumpet heralds a sonic crush that comes on quick and peters out slowly.
"Apples and Limes," one of the less-electronic songs on the record, finds the band muting the vocals for a nice effect and building most of the song around choppy guitars before introducing a glorious bit of synthesizer matched with bass and McDowell's delightfully offbeat glockenspiel interludes.
It's a great record, even without the Skittles.