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.
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