100 Watt Smile

100 Watt Smile's 1999 debut and reason flew absolutely blew my socks, pants, and underpants off, staying in heavy rotation for nine months in a world where a CD is lucky to get two weeks before it bores me. And so it was with much fear and trepidation that I received the latest offering from 100 Watt Smile. I mean, how could anyone top, or even match, such a phenomenal album that like an old lover knew how to touch all the right places at all the right times? What if the album completely blew? And so the CD spun. First track... good... needs more listens. Second track... not bad... oh wait... what was that wicked chord progression? Was that a chill I felt? After living with this album for almost a month, it continues to grow on me and I've learned that and reason flew was no lucky accident.

100 Watt Smile is fronted by Carrie Bradley, violinist for The Breeders. Indeed, there is quite a bit of Breeders vibe to their music albeit a vibe infused with ideas from classical music. Adding to this comparison is Bradley's voice which sounds a good deal like Kim Deal's but with the amazing ability to sound both naive and flirtatious at the same time. Lyrically the album is filled with unusual characters and occurrences but an extra layer of brilliance is in store for those who take the time to delve into the witty wordplay and odd scenarios. For instance, there is the man whose sole source of excitement is using spray paint without proper ventilation and the thing, "half girly boy half tom-girl like us", that stumbles upon a scene in "Somewhere." My favorite line this week is "And the universe is expanding / So you can't fit into your own pants." Those who prefer their alterna-power-pop polished will stand amazed at the glossy production. The guitars buzz in the right places, the bass slips in with unexpected twists, and extra production touches abound so that repeated listens continue to surprise with new nuances. Almost every song seems packed with enough musical and production ideas for at least two songs, and yet the songs never seem busy. Like their first album, the part each instrument plays is incredibly inventive, often foreshadowing motifs that will be fleshed out later in the song. As with their first album, this album consumes me to the point that when it's playing, it commands my full attention, amazing me with the interplay between instruments. Catchy candy melodies, weird rock music based on symphonic principles, rhythms that make your body twitch uncontrollably, surreal lyrics, dead-on musicianship, inventive production... who could ask for anything more? Of course, music this creative is not available on a major label. www.100wattsmile.com.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, June 2001.