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Wet Confetti - Laughing Gasping

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Artist: Wet Confetti

Album: Laughing Gasping

Label: Pampelmoose

Review date: Feb. 20, 2007

The more I listen to Laughing Gasping, the less punk it sounds. The fact is that you start off by noticing the stop-start abruptness, the thick blots of staccato bass, the in-out forays of stuttery guitar, the jittery, cymbal-slushing beats, the deadpan girly glory of Alberta Poon's voice, and if you're prone to time-space dislocation, it could be 1978 or 1979 again. And yet, the more you hear, the more new age, pop and even classic rock starts to creep in around the edges. It starts with the very first bars of the album, the opener "Touch It," which emerges out of slabs of plastic-glossed synth sounds with a keyboard line vaguely reminiscent of "Baba O'Riley." Later on the same song, swoony vocals give way to an episode of feminine panting that's right out of Karen O's playbook. There are crunchy ’70s rock chugs and spooky early ’90s synth runs and strident rhythmic dialogue a la early Sleater-Kinney. The thing is that Wet Confetti could come from a lot of different time periods, including right now, but it's too clean for punk, and never mind the post-punk clutch of references that follow it everywhere or the well-documented partnership with Gang of Four's Dave Allen.

That's maybe appropriate given that Wet Confetti's Alberta Poon and Dan Grazzini had never even heard of post-punk when they started making their stop-motion anthems while still in high school in Mormon-heavy and not-very-receptive Orem, Utah. With a move to Seattle in the late 1990s then Olympia, the two of them rifled through likely west coast scenes, finally settling on easy-going, music-obsessed Portland as a new home. A CD-R, an EP came first and featured Grazzini, not Poon, on vocals. It was only with the full-length This Is So Illegal that that band, now augmented by drummer Mike McKinnon, began to find its sound – spine-shaking underpinnings for breathy, ultra-feminine shouts and murmurs. Wet Confetti's slot on the Portland edition of Burn To Shine was the loudest, most aggressive track all day, a razor-sharp exception to a mostly subdued session, and it was not long after that (or maybe before), that Dave Allen agreed to produce the band's upcoming album.

The band had been working on these songs for more than a year, refining and redoing and driving themselves crazy. Allen helped them clean up and refocus their songs (they booted three of the original set and added a trio of new ones). Allen played bass on several cuts, then tossed out his tracks (except for on the single "Sorry Dinosaur"), in a push for cleaner, simpler mixes. The result is a spikey, stuttery, asymmetrical songs with ice-clean spaces between the notes. Every sound – Poon's voice, the pop of snare, the whine of synth – comes through as distinct and separate, like piles of food on a picky kid's plate. Nothing wheels out of control. Nothing threatens to break down. A sense of anomie, rather than danger, pervades. Compared to the performance on Burn To Shine, the record feels like it's been encased in glass, a little too perfect to breathe comfortably.

Not that there aren't some very fine songs here – drum-clattering, ominous "False Alarm," new-wave anxious "Donuts and Old People", and the fantastically claustrophobic, pummeling groove of the title cut. There's just a gloss, a dynamic same-ness, a cleanliness, that keeps Laughing Gasping in check. Word has it that the band is moving towards an even more rhythmically complicated, melodically-based sound now, and that sounds like a good thing. They seem a little too comfortable here, lolling on their barbed-wire rhythms like a couch…this sort of music should at least sting a little.

By Jennifer Kelly

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