[FUNNY/FRENZY] Though we enjoyed the first album by Drats!!! immensely, there was reason for concern with a follow-up. 2006's Welcome to New Granada was a disco/circus music/punk record meant to accompany Matt Dillon's 1979 cult classic teenage rebellion film Over the Edge, so many of its lyrical ideas were inspired by a singular and awesome source. That isn't the case with the band's new disc.
The album title's tongue-in-cheek question, it turns out, is actually valid. Is it too much for a band to try to rock us—something Drats!!! does in a frenzied, Jack Blackian way—and make us laugh?
The answer depends on you. The punctuation-obsessed band, like Frank Zappa before it, has a strange sense of humor that some folks just won't like. Too Entertaining's opening track, "Aux 5," makes this clear right off the bat. "All we ask for is permission to go to the bathroom," co-frontman the Chairman delivers via an overly manly, Electric 6-esque holler. By the end of the tune, the bathroom-break anxiety has turned to an outright protest song with a chorus that wobbles like Jell-O (or more fittingly, Jello Biafra, another rocker loved and hated in equal measure for his grating sense of humor).
At the end of the day, the disc's best tracks—dance-punk anthem "Basic" and the relentless "Drats!!! (I Missed It Again)," for example—are those that don't depend on a single joke (see "Real Life Frogger"). As long as these self-professed "Realness Keepers" can keep the yuks from overpowering the licks—something the new disc only partially succeeds with—Drats!!! will be just fine. In fact, the band will fill a void in a town with a surprising lack of joke-rawk. CASEY JARMAN.
[BREAKUP POP] In a recent bit of charity, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen offered up a singing telegram as a raffle prize. For $20, anyone could purchase a ticket and get the chance to have Thao write and dedicate a song to a person of the winner's choosing. After listening to her band's new record, I have just one piece of advice: Don't pick Thao's ex-boyfriend.
Know Better Learn Faster is Thao's third album and second recorded with producer Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, Laura Veirs) at Portland's Type Foundry studio. It's also her first all-out breakup record, one she describes in a video documentary on the making of the record as "an audit of what did or did not happen and how two people let each other down." The anger is subtle but frequent, often hidden behind Thao's warm voice, which jumps from coy and quiet one moment to unrestrained and wild the next. In highlight "Body," she almost whispers the line "it's good to see you" before shouting the follow-up question: "What am I, just a body in your bed? Won't you reach for the body in your bed?"
But despite the weight of the subject matter, Know Better Learn Faster is also one of the year's most fun listens, an uptempo, unfussy collection of lovely pop songs and immaculate arrangements. Thao and Martine both clearly know the importance of space; songs like the jaunty, ballroom piano-led "Cool Yourself" and "Good Bye Good Luck" are never burdened by talk about sad sex and bad dates. Of course it helps that "Body" has the best use of handclaps since Broken Social Scene's "Stars and Sons." As Thao says right before the jittery, disco-ready closer "Easy": "Sad people dance, too." And I bet they write the best telegrams. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: Thao plays Doug Fir on Wednesday, Oct. 21, with Weinland and David Schultz. 9 pm. $15. 21+. Drats!!! plays the Know on Friday, Oct. 23, with Choke and Death by Doll. 8 pm. $5. 21+.