In 2004, as Austin singer-songwriter James McMurtry was barricading himself behind a career iron curtain over the Iraq War, a more obscure musical entity from the state’s capital made its recording debut with a bright-eyed, catchier statement of outrage.
The duet “Let’s War” from LaLaLand’s three year-old Ready? Ready! displayed co-songwriters and vocalists Tommy Mazzi (guitar) and Ruby Painter (bass, keyboards) power-riffing their way through an on-target condemnation of war profiteering. The tune had a simplicity and confidence you don’t expect from a young quartet desperate to stand out in a time and place clogged with war headlines — you could imagine the discontented twentysomething in you dancing to it without feeling ashamed of yourself 20 years later.
LaLaLand’s latest outing is an e.p. called Mumbo Jumbo, perhaps fitting for a disc whose five tunes manage to stomp, hop, saunter, and sway through the heavy clanging of their jagged guitar-bass-and-drums approach. Mazzi’s voice has a Richard Thompson-ish mix of wry lethargy, and it makes a fine foil to Painter’s girlish harmonies and the merry plink-plink of her piano accompaniment, as on “Over Again,” a teen anthem that wouldn’t be out of place on some Sid & Marty Kroft fantasy show. The gorgeous “Ripple to Wave” gleams as delicately as melting ice cubes, with the coda verse “And we sail again” pointing into some tender future childhood full of idyllic musical instrumentation. The pace is slower, tribal, and more dread-inspired in “Phase Out,” thanks to the marching punch of Luis Guerrero’s drum work, which erupts in a hissing storm of cymbal thrashes during the chorus — the unnamed “she” of the song has just broken down or broken out of her mysterious dependency on her friends.
LaLaLand merges fanciful pop touches with earthbound lyrics so well that it’s a little disappointing to hear them go full-on frivolous with “Monkey See, Monkey Do.” Still, the fact that Mumbo Jumbo pursues musical qualities like sweet, hummable, and intelligent with integrity suggests indie listeners are not crazy to yearn for a little more gourmet ear candy in their musical diets.
Sat w/Baboon and Tame … Tame & Quiet at The Cavern, 1914 Greenville Av, Dallas. 214-828-1914.