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Wizard of Ahhs’ EP shows potential

Observer Scene | Thursday, February 21, 2008

A song that can make you smile every time you hear it is worth its weight in gold. Whether as a result of nostalgic associations or the simple giddy nature of the song, those are the ones that get remembered, that transcend the realm of merely “good” to become classics.

“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You” by Jacksonville, Florida’s Black Kids is one of those songs. From the bouncy keyboards to the Robert Smith-like vocals, this is a song that won’t send a shiver down your spine when the term “1980s throwback” is used to describe it. Normally female backing vocals and use of the “doo doo doo doo doo doo” onomatopoeia is a rock-and-roll cliché, but not here. Not when they’re used in such a sincere manner.

That’s really what makes the debut EP by Black Kids so effective: Their wide-eyed sincerity and idealism shine in a world jaded by the constant barrage of media announcing the “next big thing.” Ironically, it’s that very na’veté and enthusiasm that made Black Kids a “next big thing,” at least on the Internet, anyway. Regardless of whether they satisfy the hype machine when their full-length album finally arrives, we’ll always be lucky to have the “Wizard of Ahhhs” EP. It doesn’t overstay its welcome; instead, the group leaves you wanting more. The four songs the album contains range from 3:32 to 4:26 in length, so no over-indulgent drum solos or filler is to be found here. The songs arrive, make their point, and leave. It’s over before you know it.

The EP opens with “Hit the Heartbrakes”, showing that in addition to writing music that’s catchy as hell, the group can also pun. The song has an explosive instrumental introduction that subsides to showcase call and response vocals between lead singer/guitarist Reggie Youngblood and backup singers/keyboardists Dawn Watley and Ali Youngblood. The small details on this song are what make it great, from the cowbell in the chorus to the tasteful keyboard line in the song’s bridge.

“Hurricane Jane” is the song that is both the longest and most obviously influenced by the Cure, or at least the more pop-esque moments. The verses are subdued and mellow when compared to the other songs, with a jumpy bass line. Basically, it sounds a lot like “The Lovecats.” Of course, the band returns to full pop form in the chorus, with lyrics telling of a lonely, drug-fueled Friday night. This is typical of the group’s lyrics, which generally discuss topics vastly incongruous with their shiny pop music.

For all that has been said about the other songs on this album, they are not the ones that contain “the Moment”, that magical portion of the song that grabs you and refuses to let go, forcing you to be a fan of the band forever. No, it’s in the last 80 seconds of “I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again)” where the song jumps back yet another 20 years to the 1960s, transforming into the kind of sublime pop gem that Brian Wilson could only dream of writing. The music ends there, leaving the listener wondering what exactly this band would be capable of if they recorded a full-length album.

Please download the “Wizard of Ahhhs” EP. The whole thing is free on the bands MySpace, and the songs are just too good to pass up. Black Kids show off a youthful exuberance in the music they play, something not seen very often. The music is pure pop, with a heavy ’80s influence, but without the stigma normally attached. Their popularity is only going to increase, so if you start listening now, you can look cool in front of all your friends. The music is both fantastic and free, so there’s no reason to ignore Black Kids for another second.

Contact Ryan Raffin at rraffin@nd.edu.