Cardiac Party singer Ryan McDowell had it all planned out: By including a package of Skittles with the 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 Tempe-based indie/noise/electronica outfit is making the sort of super trendy keyboard-and-noisy-guitar music hipster-haters spend most of their waking hours actively despising, but it's hard to find anything worth not liking about this brilliant followup to their 2007 effort Cardiac Party R Cacti Yard, PA. I'm only passingly familiar with what the band sounded like back then -- mostly standard lo-fi indie rock garnished with small slices of lo-cal Peachcake -- but I'm comfortable calling this record a giant step forward. Actually, if I were them, 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, in "Sha-La," Cardiac Party makes their point quickly. Lyrics like has lyrics like "Addullah, 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 to look sophisticated, as so many Phoenix-area bands seem to, but in 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 a Clouds Taste Metallic-era Flaming Lips record, the simple mantra "Savvy shoppers getting their own parking lot, sunny parking lot, funny parking lot" repeated for 4:44 while drummer Cavan Noone beats out a solid foundation for the layers of loosely-tuned guitar, ambitious vocal harmonies and twittering keys. Things build throughout, finally dissolving when a lone trumpet heralds a full-on 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 perfectly with bass and McDowell's delightfully offbeat glockenspiel interludes.
Though Cardiac Party doesn't seem to have much buzz right now -- in fact, they're playing first at this week's Star Swim, before even The Yellow Minute -- this record is well-deserving of any Phoenix music fan's attention. Honestly, I'd say they're closer to Kinch, Saturday's headliner, which recorded my favorite record of last year, than the other bands on the bill.
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Even without the Skittles.
*(Note: Last week marked the one year anniversary of You Asked For It, and we've decided to start grading each week's offering, in the interest of providing context for casual readers.)
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