This band's live impression is so strong I simply couldn't get it out of my head when listening to the duo's self-titled debut, but it sounds like Hey Lover was having a lot of fun recording, too. Maybe it's the somewhat shrill (though not inaccessible) vocals of Baltzer and guitarist Justin Varga, who's sometimes high enough in pitch to sound like a lady himself. Maybe it's the rhythmic chanting of "da-um-bum-bum" à la Mates of State on "Here Comes the Snow." Or maybe it's the way the verses of that song (and most of the record) are delivered in the half-prosaic style of a witty folk singer or brainy punk band like the Weakerthans (the band covers Daniel Johnston very, very well). In any case, Baltzer and Varga totally get away with über-emo lines like, "You opened up my tearbox/ My eyes used to be dry" because you get the sense they're holding back a little laughter while delivering them.
But Hey Lover isn't all horsing around. The album also takes up serious subjects like war in the Middle East: On "Let Me Kill an Arab," for instance, the duo's grins go from sunny to vicious. The song recalls Screeching Weasel's earlier political tunes in that it's slightly faster and more gruff than other tracks, but a casual listener might not notice the change against the rowdy lo-fi pop-punk of the rest of the album. The fact that "Arab" makes up the record's only bitter moment without drastically diverging in sound makes it all the more effective.
And the lines "I want to dance/ I want to sing/ I want to watch an explosion/ On my big-screen TV" are pretty clever considering Hey Lover has been dancing and singing its way through the album's 13 previous songs. Suddenly, the sugar high takes on a sinister tone, and that sly but important moment hints a at a deeper meaning: that you might actually find yourself at war if you don't get serious now and then.
Hey Lover celebrates the release of Hey Lover on Saturday, March 31, at the Towne Lounge with The Teeth and Rainbow & the Kittens. 9:30 pm. $5. 21+.