Album Reviews: Caspar Babypants, Campfire OK, Star Anna and LAKE

Caspar Babypants, Baby Beatles! (out now, Aurora Elephant, babypantsmusic.com/music): I don’t need to tell you Chris Ballew is Caspar Babypants. Best known as the frontman of the Presidents of the United States of America, Ballew released his seventh children’s album under the Babypants moniker this week. Kids may have no idea that PUSA once ruled the ’90s—those born when “Lump” was released are now of legal voting age, after all—but Seattle’s little ones are certainly familiar with the engaging and quirky ditties Babypants has been pumping out over the past four years. His latest is just what it sounds like: a 20-track collection of Beatles favorites given the classic Ballew treatment. The skeptic in me wondered why the world—or children—needed more Beatles covers, but the fact is my kids fucking love it. (Sat., Sept. 21, Town Hall) MATT DRISCOLL

Campfire OK , When You Have Arrived (out now, Fugitive Records, campfireok.com): You can tell a lot about a band by listening to its second album. Is it a copy-paste version of its debut? Or does the band experiment and show a bit of growth? While Campfire OK’s sophomore release is not a huge departure from Strange Like We Are, its 2011 debut full-length, When You Have Arrived is definitely in the second category, with a handful of standout tracks and enough added spunk to give their folk-pop sound a real kick. “Wishing You the Best,” the album’s lead single, is our first big introduction to Andrew Eckes on banjo, who adds a gritty vibe to the song. “New Tradition” is especially touching thanks to quintet leader Mychal Cohen’s lyrics about growing older, stepping aside, and letting your young become your old. And the whole group shows its musicality on a lovely instrumental section in “Pretty and Kind.” Since Strange, the lineup has shifted slightly, with South Africa–born Zarni DeWet providing backup vocals and Harvey Danger’s Aaron Huffman taking up bass. Huffman is especially great on the title track, adding a jazzy feel, while drummer Brandon Milner gives the rest of the group a little nudge when needed. DeWet, who really shines on “Wooden Queen” and “Smoke Out Your Eyes,” adds a light contrast to Cohen’s deeper lead throughout the album. When You Have Arrived may not be completely new sonic territory for Campfire OK, but it is proof of the band’s ability to successfully incorporate a brighter sound into its repertoire.

Star Anna, Go to Hell (9/24, Spark and Shine Records, sparkandshine.com/bands/star-anna): Star Anna’s been through some shit recently, and her voice projects it on her fourth studio album. Whether that’s why she left most of her old band, the Laughing Dogs, off of it is still a mystery, but the new release finds her working with mostly new collaborators. Old friend Ty Bailie (keys/producer) appears, however, and he and guitarist Jeff Fielder move seamlessly among styles, from barroom blues (“Power of My Love”) and straight-ahead country (“Mean Kind of Love”) to the gritty punk tone of “Smoke Signals.” For her part, Star puts aside her guitar and focuses on her singing, revealing richly expressive vocals that sound equally at home in all the styles she explores on the album’s 10 tracks. The rousing, bluesy “For Anyone” is expertly paced and provides a perfect album opener. “Let Me Be,” co-written with Seattle native Shane Tutmarc, makes a fine centerpiece, too, with lyrics that capture the personal strife Star experienced during the album’s gestation. Overall, Go to Hell is darker than her previous albums, though. The title track’s sparse, ethereal opening is emphasized with the addition of a distant vibraphone. Star’s version softens Nina Simone’s original, but the song’s middle section sees her anger rise just to the surface, only to recede by the end. (Fri., Sept. 20, Tractor Tavern)

LAKE, The World Is Real (out now, K Records, laketheband.com): On “Reconcile,” the final song on LAKE’s latest, The World Is Real, Eli Moore and a chorus of voices close out the album by asking a question. “How to you reconcile what you believe with what you do?” they coo. The song, like the entire album, is not much of a departure from the baroque indie pop for which LAKE is known. But if you listen closely, you’ll here something new: LAKE sounds kind of angry. Over the past eight years the Olympia quintet led by Moore and Ashley Erikkson has been a consistently radiant group with unapologetic hooks, feather-light vocals and instrumental references to the feel-good soft rock acts of the late-‘70s and early-‘80s. But for its sixth full-length album, the band has gone dark, if slightly so, applying its craft to a collection of songs more ponderous than poppy. Not that the music here doesn’t move. The band is still working with the pallet of bright Rhodes parts, crisp drum beats, walking bass lines and flourishes of horns and back-up singers found on 2011’s stupendous Giving & Receiving. Opener “Do You Recall?” is as rich as anything on that album, but is more tangential with a dark furrowed guitar solo here and a meandering piano line there. Next track “Bury the House” is even darker, a driving psychedelic song that comes off like a “White Rabbit” for the foreclosure generation. “The closer we are to earth, the closer we are to birth and the more our house will be worth,” Erikkson sings. More psychedelia pops up throughout the rest of the album, but mostly the band stays rooted in mid-tempo jams undergirding its aggitated lyricism. LAKE does detour into lighter territory with a couple soulful love songs. But they sound out of place, as if the band were a little self-conscious of its seriousness. It need not be. (Wed., Sept. 18, 2020 Cycle)

 
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