Somewhere in the land of indie rock, between the softer side of the White Stripes, the sloppier side of Yo La Tengo, and the less political side of Le Tigre, there is an orchard where the Moldy Peaches grow. The soil's not so good, the trees don't get quite enough sun, and the farmer is a lazy drunk, but every now and then you'll stumble across a fruit that's just about perfect.
Alright, enough of that. I'm way too literal a person to keep beating this horse for much longer.
The Moldy Peaches are actually a lo-fi boy-girl outfit (Adam Green and Kimya Dawson, respectively) out of NYC who have spent the past several months building a larger fan base by opening for fellow New Yorkers the Strokes on their recent tour. In addition to the groups listed in the first paragraph, the Peaches draw influences from people like Daniel Johnston, Beck, Sonic Youth, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. (Okay, that last one is a joke. But the rest are valid.) And of course, because they're lo-fi and they come from NYC, the Peaches also owe a huge debt to the Velvet Underground, especially to the quiet, often jokey songs that the Velvets let Moe Tucker sing on. In many ways, though, it's the trying-too-hard-to-be-funny aspect that is most annoying about this disc: no fewer than half the songs are written around dumb lines like "Downloading Porn with Davo" and "Who's Got the Crack?" (each of which is repeated dozens of times in the songs that bear their names).
However funny the Peaches might have found this during the recording sessions, overusing crude lines aimed at pre-pubescent males (and anchoring songs on lines like this) can relegate a new band to a novelty niche that they might never be able to break out of. In fact, if there's one major flaw with the Peaches, it's that they can't resist throwing at least one cheap pun or a vulgar image into every song (and despite an admonition in the liner notes to "break free of cultural paradigms" and ignore the crudity in some of the songs, it's still irritating and distracting). They just can't seem to help themselves; trying to make them write a straight lyric would be like asking the old, pre-Truman Show Jim Carrey to get through a scene without mugging for the camera or talking in a funny voice.
That doesn't make it any less annoying, though. There are a bunch of great songs reminescent of the tender openess of Yo La Tengo's recent work that are ruined by a bad line that goes over like a stink bomb in an elevator. "Anyone Else But You", which would otherwise qualify as last year's best love song you never heard, is spoiled by the needlessly crude lyrics: "You squinched up your face and did a dance/You shook a little turd out of the bottom of your pants". "Lucky Charms" is built on an old school synth riff and is initially intriguing, but gets in over its head with the chorus, "I feel like I'm chasing the guy from Lucky Charms"; you can't tell whether the Peaches are trying to make a shallow pop-culture reference sound deep or just making a dumb joke, but either way it doesn't work, and it really interrupts the flow of the song.
There are a few tracks that escape this pointless maiming, most notably "Lucky Number Nine", "Jorge Regula", "The Ballad of Helen Keller and Rip Van Winkle", "Lazy Confessions", "Goodbye Song", and "Nothing Came Out" (which comes dangerously close but doesn't actually cross over the line into crassness). These all feature non-sequitur-ish lyrics (of the type pioneered by Robyn Hitchcock) that sound like they were made up on the spot, slightly off-key vocal harmonies, and stripped-down guitar/drum kit interplay. If I were to make a wish for the Peaches second album, it's that they build on the style established by these songs.
The very best songs on record are musically very different from one another, but they are connected by their attitude. On these tracks, the Peaches don't take themselves too seriously, but they don't ham it up too much, either; these songs are a nice combination of sincerity and lightheartedness. "On Top" is a Beck-influenced whiteboy rap about a teenager working at a discount store while dreaming of rock stardom; "D.2. Boyfriend" is the recollection of a teen girl's infatuation with the 80s popsters Duran Duran and could have easily been featured on a Le Tigre record (or more likely, Kathleen Hanna's solo project, Julie Ruin). "Greyhound Bus" takes a catchy guitar riff, combines it with a five-year-old-on-drums beat, and crafts an enthusiastic ode to buses, bikes, and roller skates intercut with killer lines like "Time travels like a wave/My mind it travels like a wave". The title of "I Forgot" refers to a moment in the song when Adam misses a cue and has to be prompted by Kimya to continue. They end up improvising lyrics around this mistake, which epitomizes the off-the-cuff, one-take vibe on the record.
For all my little criticisms, I found myself leaving this disc on repeat for hours and singing along, no matter how dumb the lyrics. It's a good record that you can almost begin to believe is great, especially if you're a lo-fi fan. The interesting thing now will be to see how they handle the transition from indie auteurs to established artists: are they going to forever cast themselves as a novelty act, or can they grow up without losing their charm?