Ben Kweller

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Ben Kweller

Sha Sha (ATO) Critics are raving about Ben Kweller's pop-happy true solo debut Sha Sha, but frankly, it's a problematic outing. The Texas-grown, Brooklyn-based wunderkind, who formed punk band Radish at 12 and had toured the world by age 17, has struck out on his own and offered up a project that's best described as a pastiche of influences ranging from Elliott Smith and Ben Folds to Weezer. Which doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable listen. It is. It's just not terribly original. What 20-year-old Kweller lacks in crafting his own sound, he makes up for in crafting virulently infectious hooks, the kind that find you singing along despite the fact that you only have a tenuous grasp on the lyrics. And what bizarre lyrics they are: "Sex reminds her of eating spaghetti, I'm wasted but I'm ready." Fuh? In addition to hooky goodness, Kweller also excels at precision layering of Beatlesesque harmonies, providing a lovely depth to songs like the country-fried "Family Tree." Kweller seems uninterested in committing to a certain sound, flirting at times with emo-tinged piano rock and brainiac alt-rock à la Stephen Malkmus (without the snide irony, but also seemingly free of any particular earnestness). It's unnerving to encounter music so imminently listenable, yet lacking in originality or emotional connection. Listening to Sha Sha is kind of like trying to date too soon after a breakup: You try to enjoy yourself, but you're constantly reminded of your erstwhile partner, no matter how much fun your new paramour is.

***

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