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The Box Elders - Alice and Friends

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Artist: The Box Elders

Album: Alice and Friends

Label: Goner

Review date: Aug. 10, 2009

Two brothers from Omaha and an organ-playing drummer make up the Box Elders. Their set-up, like their sound, gets the most from bare minimum components, churning fuzzy, sloppy, pop that seems to emerge from some 1960s vintage rec room or basement. The brothers – Clayton and Jeremiah McIntyre – sing in haphazard unison over jangling Nuggets guitar licks and calliope fills of thrift shop organs (that’s multi-tasker Danny Goldberg with one hand on the keys, the other clutching a drumstick). Lyrics flit from classic done-me-wrong love stories (“Ronald Dean”) to carpe diem eschatology (“2012”) to snarky love-through-death songs (“Necro” turns roller-rink organ gambols into funeral home trills). Nothing is nailed down. Nothing is entirely serious. It’s all in fun – and it is fun, fortunately. When this sort of thing falls flat, it’s dreadful.

The disc includes Box Elders’ first 7,” with a version of “Hole in My Head,” a sweetly harmonized, bittersweet pop tune encased in scratchy fuzz. The story doesn’t make a lot of sense -- some sort of Dear John letter that leaves the damage described in the title -- but the mix of joy and melancholy, of rock energy and easy tunes, is clear as can be. “Stay” is made of the same basic materials, with trilling organ fillips growing out of ragged romantic choruses. There’s a girl singing back-up on this track, intensifying the ’60s sweetness as she echoes the McIntyre’s plaintive phrases. (“You say you’re leaving…”Leaving”…”In the morning…”Morning.”)

The album gains momentum as it goes forward, starting to crest with the jangly pop of “Atlantis” and really catching fire with aggressive “One Foot In Front of the Other” and the stripped and organ-swelling “Talk Amongst Yourself.” None of these songs can be taken at face value, and some are downright goofy (“Cougars” intersperses its verses with growls and roars). Box Elders deliver even the most tragic topics with a lopsided grin. “What do you call it? When you love someone who’s dead?” the boys ask in “Necro,” repeatedly and with such a giddy backing of organ and guitar that it’s more likely to raise a giggle than a tear.

Alice and Friends is full of flaws – indifferently tuned singing, rough production, a pervading aura of nonsense – but these only seem to heighten its charm. A hundred bands might work this jangly, lo-fi territory, with only a few radiating the Box Elders’ disheveled energy. If you’ve been enjoying the lo-fi ’60s pop of the Fresh & Onlys or Ty Segall, here’s another one to check out.

By Jennifer Kelly

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