Kajak the sophomore long-player from namesake/frontman Benedikt H. Hermannsson's Icelandic easy-listening band may not be the textbook definition of a guilty indie pleasure, but it's close. The lyrics aren't in English; the cover art looks like it was designed by your 3-year old nephew; the musicianship's a smidge too solid; there's no discernable edge, agenda, or strident non-agenda to speak of. Benni Hemm Hemm revels in the grand gesture, the sunrise-o'er-the-hill majesty, the rolling, orchestral swell that's in danger of actually moving you (and Grandma) emotionally. It's almost a matter of crackerjack pop cinematography: knowing when, say, to cut away from the Stereolab charm-offensive axmanship and drop in a doe-eyed xylophone solo or to smooth out swollen clumps of dazzling, heartstring-tugging brass. Kajak's restlessly rousing first half gives way to raggedy bashful balladry on par with that of Japanese soft-psych duo Nagisa Ni Te, as Hermannsson's animated-yet-neutral voice turns inward, almost wistfully. Bonus: Unlike your noise and coke-rap CDs, there's no need for a conditional listening appreciation lesson for baffled carpool mates or elders; Benni Hemm Hemm's boundless exuberance sells itself.
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